Smoke Detectors

Its pure and simple, Smoke Detectors Save Lives.

 This page will form a basis of what the smoke detector does and how you should use it.  This information was provided by the International Fire Service Training Association.

Photoelectric versus Ionization Detectors

Ionization detectors use a small amount of radioactive material to make the air within a sensing chamber conduct electricity. Smoke particles even smaller than the eye can see will enter the detector chamber and trigger the alarm. The greatest number of these small particles are produced by flaming fire resulting in the ionization detector to respond faster to open flaming fires than photoelectric detectors.

Photoelectric detectors use a small light source which shines its light into a dark chamber not normally exposed to light. This dark chamber contains a photocell to detect light. When smoke particles enter the sensing chamber, light is reflected off of them and into the sensing chamber. This causes the alarm to trigger. This method needs bigger smoke particles than ionization detectors which is usually formed from smoldering fires.  

Now which should I use? Even though the average particle size changes considerably with temperature, fires usually produce a broad range of particle sizes. Therefore, both types of detectors will detect most fires.  

Installing Smoke Detectors

Since smoke rises, smoke detectors should be installed on ceilings or walls between six and twelve inches from the ceiling. Avoid placing detectors high in corners where the wall and ceiling meet. Also, avoid installing detectors within three feet of an air supply register or return. Smoke could be pushed or pulled away from the detector by air flow. For further information, follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Escape Plan

Since a smoke detector is simply a warning device and cannot put out a fire or get people out of a fire, you still need to plan an escape route. All family members should know two exits from their home and preplan where you should meet once evacuated. Imagine waking from a somber sleep, trying to orient yourself and then having think about getting out of your residence.  Plan now!  Escape planning must be part of your smoke detector protection. The alternative is a false sense of security which can lead to tragedy.

A Case for the Smoke Detector Program

The United States has seen a drop in recent years in deaths related to fires, however, the United States still has one of the highest fire related death rates in the industrial world. I would like to share some recent statistics with you reference fire related deaths and injuries in the United States:

  • Each year there are an average of 5,030 fire related deaths-this represents a downward trend of twenty-five percent over the last ten years
  • Annually there are an average of 28,300 reported civilian injuries and an average of 54,500 fire-fighter injuries
  • Direct property loss averages $9.8 billion dollars every year
  • On average, there are 2.1 million reported fires
  • Losses from all natural disasters combined (floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes) average a fraction of the annual direct dollar loss from fire
  • Outside fires (including wild land fires) account for forty percent of all reported fires
  • One of every four fires that departments respond to are vehicle fires
    The largest percentage of deaths, seventy percent, occur in residences
  • The second largest percentage of deaths, seventeen percent occur in vehicles
  • The population over age 55 and under age 5 have a much higher fire related death rate than the average population

By increasing public awareness about smoke detectors, we can all do our part to continue to reduce the above statistics.