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Smoke Alarm Controversy

A recent article in the Sarnia Observer brought forth controversy about smoke alarms and the type commonly being used in Canada, this was the result of a house fire that sent a baby and her father to hospital with serious injuries. The home did have a working smoke alarm but it did not sound in time to allow the residents to escape, Sarnia fire officials later reported that the alarm was incorrectly placed near the floor as opposed to the ceiling as is recommended. This fire and the resulting injuries drew the attention of Boston Massachusetts Deputy Chief Jay Fleming, he has expressed concerns about the widespread use of ionization type alarms, the most common type found in most North American homes. Deputy Chief Fleming has been on a 15 year mission to change this trend to photoelectric alarms. It is commonly recognized that both technologies have their strengths and weaknesses; ionization alarms respond quicker to flaming fires while photoelectric alarms respond quicker to smoldering fires. Both Vermont and Massachusetts have passed legislation requiring photoelectric alarms be installed in all new homes, Ohio and Tennessee are also considering passing similar laws.


As mentioned previously both types of technologies react better to different situations, the type of fire determines which type of alarm would sound first. However we do not plan fires in our homes and the variables that occur in most home fires are too numerous to mention. So what is the best type of alarm to use? The knee jerk reaction of putting all of one’s eggs in a single basket is probably not the result we would like to see. Like most things in life there is a “happy medium” to most situations that works best, with regards to smoke alarms I would suggest that that this is a perfect example. Having a combination of ionization alarms with photoelectric alarms will give you the best of both worlds when it comes to protecting your family. Most manufacturers also produce combination units which employ both types of technology in a single unit, a great option to ensure overall protection. With smoke alarms, placement is often the most important factor to consider, the Sarnia fire being a perfect example of this. We often visit homes with poorly placed alarms, unfortunately the owner has a false sense of security because they have the required amount of alarms but are not aware that their safety could be severely compromised because the alarm is not being used correctly.


Controversy is a healthy thing when it comes to fire safety, reexamining systems and methods leads to new and better ideas. I would like to thank Deputy Chief Fleming for raising this issue and expressing his concern for Canadian families. The Russell Fire Department has a program in place where we will visit people’s homes to review their overall level of fire protection, if you have any concerns about your family’s safety please take advantage of this service by contacting us at 445-3326.

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