ST. LOUIS — A fire can start in your home at any time, and having working smoke alarms in your home could save your life.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration website, three out of five home fire deaths happen in homes without working smoke alarms. The risk of dying in a house fire is cut in half in a house with working smoke alarms, according to the U.S. Fire Administration website.
St. Louis Fire Department spokesperson Captain Garon Mosby handles distributing information about local fires on a daily basis.
Mosby said most fires happen between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. He said he likes to compare the statistics of the risk of dying in a fire when there are working smoke alarms to being at a casino.
"If I told you that you had a 50% more chance of winning if you played a particular game, most folks would probably play that game just because of the odds," he said.
Here are some things to know about the smoke alarms in your home, from the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Protection Association:
- Smoke alarms need to be fully replaced every 10 years.
- Every sleeping area in a home needs a working smoke alarm.
- Smoke alarms should be installed in every level of a home.
- Test smoke alarms once a month to assure they're working.
- Replace the batteries in smoke alarms at least once a year, if the smoke alarms take 9-volt, AAA or AA batteries.
- Larger homes may need more smoke alarms to account for home size.
- When a smoke alarm goes off in your home, go outside and stay outside.
- Smoke alarms should be interconnected, if possible. When one goes off, they all go off.
Mosby said it's important to understand that a working smoke alarm will not stop a fire from happening, and can't prevent a fire from happening, but it gives you advance notice to escape.
Mosby talked about his own experience with smoke inhalation and said it can get dangerous quickly. He said a smoke alarm alerts you to the problem, but doesn't give you an exit strategy.
Having and practicing emergency exit plans is one of the most important things you can do to to give you and your family a chance to escape if a fire ever were to happen in your home, Mosby said.
"Everyone in the family should know what their responsibility is," he said. "You should have a few plans, because you never know where a fire is going to happen."
He said businesses should also practice emergency exit plans.
Mosby said to think of the routine of an emergency exit plan like how fire drills were planned in school.
"We all knew we got up in line, we all went out this door, went to this place on the playground, or this part of the field, and there was an accountability check," he said. "It's the same thing at home."
"Once you're outside, you never come back in for any reason at all," he said.
Once you are safely outside your home, call 911. Mosby said the most important thing is to get out quickly and safely.
When it's time to replace the smoke alarms in your home, it can be confusing figuring out what type to purchase.
Mosby suggests buying a smoke alarm that has a 10-year lithium battery. Smoke alarms with lithium batteries are designed to last the full 10 years of your smoke alarm, unlike smoke alarms that take other types of batteries.
Click here for more resources on smoke alarms and what type to purchase.
Mosby said cooking is the leading cause of fires. He advises to always be mindful when you are cooking something.
Another thing to consider for fire safety is the heating sources you use. Mosby said the St. Louis Fire Department fights most of its fires in the winter months, and the leading cause of fires in the winter are heat sourced-related, caused from space heaters and other methods of heating that are unsafe.
"We're definitely not fans of space heaters, but we understand that they play a role in the lives of some," Mosby said.
He said if using a space heater, read the manufacturer's instructions carefully and thoroughly. He said most manufacturers will state in the instructions to plug space heaters directly into the wall.
"Don't use an extension cord. Don't use a power strip. A lot of times, the extension cords you have just commonly around the house, the power strips are not rated to carry that kind of energy," Mosby said.
He also said to stay alert and near space heaters when they are on, and never leave it on when you leave the room or go to sleep.
"Another very important thing with the space heaters is keeping it on an island to itself with a three-foot clearance in all directions," he said.
Another way to practice fire safety, Mosby said, is to be careful of the amount of energy that is being used on a power strip or plugged into the wall.
"Normally, when your breaker box trips, it's because you've overloaded a circuit," Mosby said. "That's, sort of, the electrical system's warning to the user that 'Hey, you're giving me too much, and I can't handle it,' and so it shuts itself off."
A breaker can also flip if there is a malfunction somewhere in the electrical system.
He said when a breaker is turned back on after it flips, the warning signs are being ignored, which can cause a problem down the line.
Mosby said power strips are not encouraged for use, but if you do have to use one, the power strips with surge protectors add an extra level of protection.
Andy Parrish, O'Fallon Fire Protection District Assistant Chief, described smoke detectors as "your very first defense against a fire."
"I think there’s a false sense of security sometimes that they just see the detector there, they think it works. A lot of times they don’t," he said.
While his crews are out on the job, Parrish said, they even notice smoke detector problems.
"A lot of times, even if our crews are on a medical call, we’ll hear the smoke detector chirping. We may see the lid flipped down with no battery in it. We try to correct that right away," he said.
Parrish said it's important to check your smoke alarm monthly, change the batteries twice per year and replace it after 10 years.
"Another quick thing you can do is also when you check them once a month, take a can of compressed air or maybe a vacuum cleaner and just kind of clean them out, get the dust and whatever else is out there out," he said.
Right now, according to Parrish, is the worst time of year for structure fires.
"It’s mainly due to cooking, also heating, inappropriate heating. If you use a space heater, something like that, it’s a big cause," he said.
Parrish agreed with Mosby that an evacuation plan for your family is necessary.
"It allows our crews to get to the fire quicker and not do needless searches for people if we aren’t sure that their home, so meeting places are huge. Get out and stay out," he said.
All these reasons are why, Parrish said, they can't stress enough to check your alarm.
"If you don’t have that or it doesn’t work properly, then you’re counting on somebody else seeing that or you’re alerted in other ways, there’s the heat or the smoke and it’s often too late," he said.
Parrish also added the importance of having your furnace checked by a professional.
He said that's because it's not only a fire risk, but also a carbon monoxide, which is something you can't see or smell.
Here are some other things about fire safety from the American Red Cross, U.S. Fire Administration and National Fire Protection Association:
- A closed door can help slow the spread of fire, heat and smoke.
- Establish a family communication plan, and make sure all family members know who to contact if they can't find one another after escaping a fire.
- Teach children what a smoke alarm sounds like and how to react if they hear one.
- Make sure everyone in your home knows of at least two ways to escape from every room in your home.
- Remember to STOP, DROP and ROLL if you or your clothes ever catch fire.
To learn more about fire safety and smoke alarms, visit the American Red Cross by clicking here; the U.S. Fire Administration by clicking here; and the National Fire Protection Association by clicking here.
Smoke alarms can be purchased at most home improvement stores, as well as at stores like Target and Walmart.
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