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Smoke detectors do save lives, and are very effective, provided they are installed and maintained appropriately. Smoke detectors can significantly reduce the number of burn related deaths and injuries, and may be one of the simplest and best ways to give you and your family a fighting chance to escape a fire in your home. As well, carbon monoxide detectors for wall heaters, space heaters and fireplaces can also increase your family’s safety.
Perhaps some of the most relevant information on smoke detectors comes from studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the 1990s. The CDC studied data collected over several years and concluded that fires were the second leading cause of death by injury among children. In 1996 alone, 4035 people died from residential fires, and currently about 800 children, over half under the age of 5, die in fires each year.
What is perhaps most relevant from the data collected by the CDC is that 66% of the deaths occurring in 1996 happened in homes without working smoke detectors. This suggested to the CDC that smoke detector and fire safety programs could save many lives, and at a very low cost. The average smoke detector costs about 20-40 US dollars (USD).
In response to this data, the CDC started programs in some cities where smoke detectors and fire safety training were made available free to families. Some of the most interesting data occurred when the CDC gave 912 free smoke detectors to families in Benton County, Mississippi over a one year period. This county previously had one of the highest death rates due to fire in the country. In the year after smoke detectors were given out, there was not a single fire related death. This program demonstrates that it makes good sense to own and maintain smoke detectors in one’s home.
However, smoke detectors must be maintained in order to remain effective. Each floor of the home should have a smoke detector, so that smoke detection can occur on each floor. Since most smoke detectors are battery operated, the batteries must be changed regularly, usually twice a year. "Change Your Clock, Change Your Battery" is a campaign that reminds people to change the batteries when changing their clocks for daylight savings. Many modern smoke detectors will also beep or chirp if the battery is running low.
Fire departments across the US also recommend that one gently vacuum smoke detectors at least a couple of times a year. This can help keep smoke detectors from going off when there is no cause. While smoke detectors can alert one to fire danger, people should have a tested plan to evacuate their home if a fire occurs. Developing escape routes and strategies for a fire, and testing them, is a very important aspect of surviving a fire.
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