Smoke Alarms 101: Stay Safe from House Fires

January 10th, 2022

Sadly, this winter has already been tragic for many families throughout our region. On Christmas morning, a house fire in Quakertown took the lives of a man and two children. Last week, a horrific duplex fire in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia claimed 12 lives, including eight kids.

These tragedies offer an important reminder for us all: That house fires can be prevented, and that working smoke detectors can save lives.

According to research from the National Fire Prevention Association, three out of every five deaths in home fires happened in either properties with no smoke alarms or—as was the case in the Fairmount fire—smoke alarms that failed to operate. What’s more, the death rate from house fires is 55% lower in homes with working alarms.

Our team at Grand View Health’s Level II Adult Trauma Center knows that working smoke detectors save lives. So, please, keep yourself and your family safe with these best practices for installing and using smoke alarms:

  • Install smoke alarms on every floor of your house, including inside each bedroom, outside of all sleeping areas and in finished basements.
  • Mount smoke alarms on ceilings or on high walls so they can best detect the presence of smoke.
  • Change smoke detector batteries twice a year. A good tip: Do so when we “spring forward” and “fall back” to begin and end Daylight Saving Time. But if you don’t remember the last time you changed the batteries, do it now!
  • Replace smoke alarms every 10 years. This is the rule of thumb for all types of detectors, including those that use lithium batteries or those that are hardwired into your home.
  • Test smoke detectors each month by hitting the TEST button. Make sure everyone in your household knows the sound of the alarm and what to do if they hear it.
  • Never remove the battery or disconnect your smoke detector, even it goes off by accident (like when you’re cooking a meal in the kitchen). Always assume it’s an emergency when the alarm goes off.

If you can’t afford a smoke detector or are physically unable to install one, you can request a free smoke alarm from the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

In addition, these precautions can help you reduce the risk of house fires and prevent injuries in the event of a fire:

  • Create a fire escape plan. Identify two exits from each room of the house and determine the safest place for everyone to meet outside in the event of a fire.
  • Practice your fire escape plan twice a year.
  • Keep a working fire extinguisher in the house at all times.
  • Hide matches and other fire starters from children.
  • Never smoke in bed.
  • Keep a three-foot clearance around all space heaters, and turn them off when you leave the house or at bedtime.
  • Clean your fireplace once a year, and never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended.
  • Clean out the lint filter on your clothes dryer and check your dryer vents for lint buildup. Never leave home with your dryer running.

In the event of a house fire, crawling on your hands and knees to the nearest safe exit will help you prevent inhaling the smoke and fumes that cause most deaths. If your clothes catch on fire, stop, drop, and roll on the floor to put out the flames. As soon as you reach a safe place, call 9-1-1.