EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

October 8, 2012

Column: All working smoke detectors help save lives

I am encouraging all residents and the media to seek education about the complex issue of smoke alarm technology. Last week, a popular national morning show, as well as local and national news, called into question the effectiveness of ionization smoke alarms. I, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs advocate that having both types of technology provides maximum protection against both flaming and smoldering fires.

The media segment was narrowly focused on research in the smoldering fire environment, where ionization alarms are well documented to react slower than photoelectric detectors. There was only a passing mention of the ionization detector’s performance in the flaming fire environment, where research shows it reacts faster than its counterpart. What those who sensationalize a portion of this type of research don’t realize is that half-information leads to unintended consequences that may cause people to remove what protection they may have in place. It’s frustrating that after so many years of proven effectiveness and progress on scientifically-valid research, we continue to see this type of coverage and lack of education on smoke alarms. We should be using research to project our energy forward, not backward.

It would be great if by tomorrow morning, we could wave a magic wand and have every home in the country protected with dual-sensor alarms. But the reality is that’s not going to happen. Our focus needs to be about education — not panic and fear tactics. Local fire departments are prepared to provide reliable facts and complete information, and promote the highest level of protection to their communities: a combination of ionization and photoelectric technology so that the home is protected against both smoldering and flaming fires.

Modern homes contain a large quantity of synthetic furnishings, which ignite and burn faster than natural materials such as wood and cotton. Escape time in flaming fires can be as little as three minutes, as compared to 17 minutes in tests conducted in the 1970s. Early smoke detection and alarm notification is needed so occupants can escape before conditions become untenable. Interconnecting smoke alarms allows for faster notification of occupants in other parts of the home.

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