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Smoke Alarms and Fire Safety Plans

Orange flames with a black backdrop

“Fire is the thief that takes everything.” 

The average citizen is woefully unprepared for a house fire. Few of us have a family fire escape plan, even though it’s not hard to develop one. 
Instead, we imagine that the parents and adults in a household will overcome the challenge to rescue all the younger and older members, as well as pets, with fierce ease that belies the statistical truths. What then, should the average parent do to be more prepared and more protected?

Fire Safety Precautions

First, smoke detectors are absolutely essential to protecting lives during a house fire. Not only are they mandatory on every floor, but every room should have one too. Smoke alarms in every room alert families before it is too late. 
Another precaution to take is that all bedroom doors should be closed at night. Parents might feel that this limits their ability to hear unusual sounds, however, the statistical facts are clear. Closing doors saves lives. Check out this article and video showing the dramatic difference between fires when doors are closed and when they are open 

Do smoke alarms detect heat or smoke? 

The most common smoke detectors use particular systems that trigger an alarm when smoke is detected. The most inexpensive types (Ionization) and the more expensive type (photoelectric) detect smoke in different ways. They are also each suited to detecting a certain kind of house fire. Further information about fire safety can be found here 

Ionization Smoke Alarms

A horizontal match lit with a bright orange flame against a black backdrop

Ionization smoke detectors respond mainly to ‘flaming fires’ which is similar to the gaseous combustion seen on this match

Ionization alarms are much more responsive to open flaming fires and are triggered by the appearance of smoke. For reference, flaming fires refer to what is typically associated with a fire, which is the bright orange, gaseous combustion we can see. In an Ionization alarm, there is an electrical circuit inside of the device which produces ions. When smoke enters the alarm, the ions become bonded to the smoke and disrupt the circuit. Disrupting the circuit in turn triggers the smoke alarm. A detailed diagram supplied by the NFPA simplifies this. 

Photoelectric Smoke Alarms

The photoelectric system uses laser light as the trigger mechanism. This light is normally pointed in one direction, and while undisturbed, will remain dormant. However, once smoke enters the light chamber, the smoke particles will disrupt the light path. The resulting disruption points the laser light toward a sensor plate, which triggers an alarm. A diagram of this process is found here.

a close-up of smouldering coals that are slightly coated in white ash. A faint red light is emitted from the interior spaces of the coals.

Smouldering refers to surface-level combustion that does not produce a flame. Smouldering coals are an example.

These alarms are responsive to ‘smouldering fires’ which relate to combustion on a surface without open flames. An example of a smouldering fire would be a lit cigarette.

Should You Buy Photoelectric or Ionization Smoke Detectors?

With this in mind, you may be wondering whether you should buy ionization or photoelectric smoke detectors. While they technically specialize in detecting certain kinds of fires, it is advisable to have both types installed in your home. Additionally, knowing about the different classes of fire will help in the case of a small outbreak. Fire security can also be doubled by adding these smoke detectors to a home alarm system for when fires break out when no one is home.
Professionally monitored smoke alarms connect to the monitoring station when smoke is detected. They should be programmed to work whether the home alarm system is armed or disarmed. Professional monitoring ensures a response from EMS even when humans or pets are rendered unable to summon their own help. Professional monitoring when a household is sleeping, or a pet is left alone in the home has been proven to save lives and limit losses. 

Works Cited

“Fire Safety Plans/Forms.” Fire Safety Plan / Forms, www.london.ca/residents/Fire-Department/business-resources/Pages/Forms.aspx.
Picard, Caroline. “Why You Should Always Close Your Door Before Bed.” Good Housekeeping, Good Housekeeping, 18 Oct. 2018, www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/a23708201/close-your-door-fire-safety/.
Ionization vs Photoelectric, www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Staying-safe/Safety-equipment/Smoke-alarms/Ionization-vs-photoelectric#:~:text=How%20they%20work:%20Photoelectric-type,light%20sensor;%20triggering%20the%20alarm.&text=For%20each%20type%20of%20smoke,safety%20in%20some%20fire%20situations.

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