DennisBeaverMarch 31, 2012 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

Recently we told you about the new California law which now requires that homeowners have a carbon monoxide alarm (detector) in addition to a smoke alarm. Interestingly, those articles generated a number of comments from readers about smoke alarms, including this from Richard, who is a fire and property claims adjuster in Visalia.

“Even though, for many years, the law has required that homeowners have functioning smoke detectors, I am amazed at the fires we see where the battery was dead or missing, or the device was improperly located or needed to be replaced. Unfortunately, too many people forget about this small, life-saving alarm until it is too late. You would really perform a needed public service by discussing these issues.”

Partners in home safety

“Your reader is absolutely correct. It is important to think of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors as our partners in home safety. They will do their job, provided we do ours.”

That’s the way Debbie Hanson views the role of these devices in the home. She is spokesperson for First Alert, the nation’s largest manufacturer of home safety products, including smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers.

Hanson listed several frequently asked questions about smoke detectors — and those that she wished were asked more often:

1) How many smoke detectors do I need? Is one ever enough?

2) Where should they be located? Where should they not be located?

3) I have heard they must be replaced after a few years. Is that correct? Do they require any maintenance?

4) If buying or selling a house, are there any special legal requirements to be aware of?

Buying time to get out

“Dennis, the whole purpose of a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector is to buy you time — time to get to safety,” she explained. “The closer the alarm is to the source of smoke or carbon monoxide, the quicker it will sound. This is why correct placement — following the manufacturer’s instructions — and having enough alarms in your home is so important.

“Every major safety and fire protection organization, such as the National Fire Protection Association (, has urged the public to have more than one smoke alarm. But, surprisingly, some of the latest research shows that two-thirds of homeowners do not meet NFPA recommendations.

“The chances of safely getting everyone out increase dramatically with a recommended number of these devices in the right locations throughout the home. Remember, it is all about time, the time for smoke to travel to the alarm, the time required to be awoken from a deep sleep, and the time to get yourself or family headed in the right direction,” she points out.

“It is so sad to read fire department reports describing potentially avoidable deaths or severe injuries simply because the detector was in one part of the home, and fire started  in another, close to where the family was sleeping. Also — and this is something which is so frustrating for firefighters — far too often batteries were either missing or dead, or the device was covered with dust or spider webs.

“Our industry has always advised changing batteries twice a year, and lightly vacuuming, to keep the units free from dust and debris, especially important for anyone living in an agricultural area. The reason is that dust can affect functionality.

“And, I cannot overemphasize the importance of location — where you install your detectors — is so important,” Hanson states. “The NFPA, National Association of Homebuilders and state fire marshals recommend that a detector be installed in every sleeping area, and on every level of the house, but not in the kitchen or near a fireplace.”

The best bargain in life insurance around

When you speak with people who see — on almost a daily basis — the potentially life-saving results of the technology that goes into smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, it makes you want to rush home and push the “test” button on your alarms.

We felt that way after talking with Timothy Ieronimo, fire chief in Hanford.

“In a very real way, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms are examples of life-saving technology which touches us every day, if correctly installed and maintained. Working 24/7, costing from $10 to $50, depending on features, with a 10-year rated life, they are really a form of life insurance for your entire family — truly providing peace of mind at a cost of just a few dollars a year,” Chief Ieronimo maintains.

Next week: We look at the ABCs (and Ds) of selecting a fire extinguisher, and what you need to know about fire safety if buying or selling a home.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.