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Smoke Alarms

Smoke Detector Alarms

A smoke detector is a device that detects smoke. Smoke inhalation is the primary cause of death in victims of indoor fires. The smoke kills by a combination of thermal damage, poisoning and pulmonary irritation caused by carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and other combustion products.

Household detectors, known as stand alone smoke alarms, generally issue a local audible and/or visual alarm from the detector itself. The widespread use of smoke detectors in the home has resulted in significant reductions of injuries and deaths from house fires. You can cut the chance that you or someone that you love will die in a house fire simply by installing these inexpensive devices in your home.

Commercial, industrial, and mass residential smoke alarms (devices) are usually powered (wired in) by a central fire alarm system, which is powered by the main panel, with a battery backup.  NFPA 72 — National Fire Alarm Code requires Annual Testing and Maintenance of your fire alarm.

Smoke detectors are typically housed in a disk-shaped plastic enclosure about 150 millimetres (6 in) in diameter and 25 millimetres (1 in) thick, but the shape can vary by manufacturer or product line. Most smoke detectors work either by optical detection (photoelectric – a form of fire detector having a photoelectric cell which responds when light is absorbed or scattered by smoke particles), or by physical process (ionization – When smoke enters the ionization chamber, it disrupts the electric current the smoke detector senses the drop in current sets off the horn.), while others use both detection methods to increase sensitivity to smoke. Household detectors are usually powered by batteries.

 

TIPS

  • Test Smoke detectors every month following the manufacturer’s directions, and replace batteries once a year, or whenever a detector “chirps” to signal low battery power.
  • Never “borrow” a smoke detector’s battery for another use – a disabled detector can’t save your life.
  • Replace detectors that are more than 10 years old.

Stand Alone Smoke Alarms

The main function of a standalone smoke alarm is to alert persons at risk by way of Audible tones.

  • Usually around 3200 Hz due to component constraints (Audio advancements for persons with hearing impairments have been made)
  • 85 DBA(decibles)at 10 feet
  • Spoken voice alert
  • Visual strobe lights
  • 110 candela output
  • tactile stimulation, e.g., bed or pillow shaker (No standards exist as of 2008 for tactile stimulation alarm devices.)

Some models have a hush or temporary silence feature that allows silencing without removing the battery. This is especially useful in locations where false alarms can be relatively common (i.e. due to “toast burning”) or users could remove the battery permanently to avoid the annoyance of false alarms.

While current technology is very effective at detecting smoke and fire conditions, the deaf and hard of hearing community has raised concerns about the effectiveness of the alerting function in awakening sleeping individuals in certain high risk groups such as the elderly, those with hearing loss and those who are intoxicated. Between 2005 and 2007, research sponsored by the NFPA (National Fire Prevention Association) has focused on understanding the cause of a higher number of deaths seen in such high risk groups. Initial research into the effectiveness of the various alerting methods is sparse. Research findings suggest that a low frequency (520 Hz) square wave output is significantly more effective at awakening high risk individuals. Wireless Wi-Safe smoke and carbon monoxide detectors linked to alert mechanisms such as vibrating pillow pads, strobes and remote warning handsets have been found to support the groups above.

A Photoelectric smoke detector equipped with strobe light for the hearing impaired. Most residential smoke detectors run on 9-volt alkaline or carbon-zinc batteries. When these batteries run down, the smoke detector becomes inactive. Most smoke detectors will signal a low-battery condition. The alarm may chirp at intervals if the battery is low, though if there is more than one unit within earshot, it can be hard to locate. It is VERY common, however, for houses to have smoke detectors with dead batteries.

Smoke Alarm Resources

Warnings

  • An alarm of any sort is merely a signaling device, it does not make the danger go away. In order to survive, you and your household must take actionMake a fire escape plan, discuss it with everyone in your home (including children) and practice it.
  • No smoke detector can sound the alarm instantly. The fire will grow and spread before the alarm sounds. Consequently, when an alarm sounds, you MUST get yourself and everyone else in your home out as quickly as possible. In a house fire, the difference between death and survival is often measured in minutes; sometimes seconds.
  • Laws in your jurisdiction probably specify how one must dispose of outdated and unreliable smoke detectors. Check the rules that apply in your area, and dispose of old and unreliable detectors properly.
  • It is dangerous to test a smoke detector using flame. It is safer to use an aerosol test spray. However: Never try to test a smoke alarm with any aerosol spray other than one specifically manufactured for that purpose. Other types of sprays contain material that will stick to the sensor, and make the device less reliable in the future.
  • Do not use candles or incense to test a smoke detector. The smoke produced by candles and incense contain waxy or oily particles that can contaminate the sensor and reduce its sensitivity.
  • All the test button does is check the BATTERY. It does NOT check the smoke sensor.

Tips

  • A few times a year, use a vacuum cleaner (hand-held or full-sized with extension tube) to gently remove dust from the slots cut into the unit’s cover. Dust in those slots could slow the entry of smoke and interfere with early detection of a fire.
  • Never decorate any part of a smoke alarm (including the outer cover) with paint, stickers, hanging objects, etc. This can impair function.
  • Smoke detectors have a reliable service life of ten years. After ten years, replace the smoke detector with a new one.
  • If you move into a home with existing smoke detectors of an unknown age, look at the manufacturer’s label on the back of the device. It might display a date of manufacture and you can use that date to calculate the device’s age. If you cannot find a date of manufacture, replace the unit with a new one as soon as possible.
  • Wear ear protection when you test the smoke alarm. It’s very loud and you will be right next to it when you’re testing it.

Testing Steps

  1. Do not use the test button. The test button is not sufficient. It only confirms that the batteries can sound the alarm horn. It does not test the smoke sensor in the unit, which could be faulty even if the horn sounds when you push the button. See Step 4 for alternatives to pressing the test button.
  2. Alert all members of your household that you are testing the alarm first, unless you would like to use the opportunity for a fire drill. If your smoke detector is hardwired to a monitored security system, be sure to notify the security system’s company that you are performing a test before you test the alarm. You don’t want the fire department showing up at your door!
  3. Have someone go to a part of the house or apartment that is as far from the smoke detector as possible when conducting a function test, to determine whether the alarm can be clearly heard at that distance. Remember, it has to be loud enough to awaken the deepest sleeper in the household.
  4. To test whether the unit will actually work in a fire, you will need a small spray can of smoke detector test aerosol. You might find this in a well-stocked hardware or home improvement store. If not, you can find it by searching the Internet. They cost only a few dollars, and one small can will last for years. Just spray some of the test material into the detector, and wait 5 to 10 seconds for a response. If the alarm sounds, you know the unit will sound in a fire. If not, you have a non- functioning smoke detector, even if it beeps when you push the button. Try changing the batteries, then repeat the test procedure. If that does not get it working, it is useless. Replace it as soon as possible.
  5. To turn off the alarm after testing you can hold a small, hand-held vacuum under the detector, suck out the test material, and the alarm will silence. If you only have a full-sized vacuum (the kind with wheels) use the extension tubes to reach up to the alarm and suck the test material out of your smoke detector. Newer smoke detectors may have a silence button that can silence the alarm until the residue leaves the unit. Alternatively, you can just wait for it to turn off by itself, but that wastes battery power, and the sound is very annoying.
  6. Test every smoke alarm in your home every month. If you are not willing to do that, do it at least a few times a year. Always test alarms after battery changes to ensure that the device is working.

Reliability

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a federal technology agency that develops and promotes measurement, standards, and technology. In 2004, NIST issued a comprehensive report entitled Performance of Home Smoke Alarms — Analysis of the Response of Several Available Technologies in Residential Fire Settings. The report concludes, among other things, that “smoke alarms of either the ionization type or the photoelectric type consistently provided time for occupants to escape from most residential fires”, and “consistent with prior findings, ionization type alarms provided somewhat better response to flaming fires than photoelectric alarms, and photoelectric alarms provided (often) considerably faster response to smoldering fires than ionization type alarms”. Optical or “toast-proof” smoke detectors are generally quicker in detecting particulate (smoke) generated by smoldering (cool, smokey) fires. Ionization smoke detectors are generally quicker in detecting particulate (smoke) generated by flaming (hot) fires.

The NFPA strongly recommends the replacement of home smoke alarms every 10 years. Smoke alarms become less reliable with time, primarily due to aging of their electronic components, making them susceptible to nuisance false alarms. In ionization type alarms, decay of the Am radioactive source is a negligible factor, as its half-life is far greater than the expected useful life of the alarm unit.

Regular cleaning can prevent false alarms caused by the build up of dust or other objects such as flies, particularly on optical type alarms as they are more susceptible to these factors. A vacuum cleaner can be used to clean ionization and optical detectors externally and internally. However, on commercial ionization detectors it is not recommended for a lay person to clean internally. To reduce false alarms caused by cooking fumes, use an optical or ‘toast proof’ alarm near the kitchen.

Monitoring

It’s 1 a.m. and your apartment building is quiet, people are sleeping when the fire alarm goes. Panic sets in and questions race through your mind. Will the fire department come? Will I lose everything? Will they be here in time to escape, prevent injury, prevent major losses?

Having your Fire Alarm monitored gives you confidence and peace of mind knowing:

  • Your facility, property and assets are protected 24/7/365
  • Emergency response is immediate upon receipt of alarm signal
  • Automatic service follow-up by ACME FIRE professionals, ensuring minimal downtime and continuity of protection
  • Will reduce likelihood of personal injuries, property damage and losses
  • Your insurance costs may go down

Fire alarm systems are great at doing what they are meant to do, which is to alert occupants that a fire has been detected and to evacuate the building.

 

Monitoring takes it one step further

When the fire monitoring panel detects that your fire alarm panel (this happens electronically) has activated a device (ex. smoke detector), it immediately sends a signal to a Signals Receiving Centre (SRC). An operator places a call to the appropriate Fire Department, or in the case of OPEN ACCESS™ the signal will be electronically re-transmitted to the fire department the very instant it arrives at the SRC.

We take this responsibility very seriously, and to ensure we are meeting the highest standards ACME FIRE in full compliance with Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC). ULC is an independent, not-for-profit product safety testing and certification organization. They provide thorough and unbiased product evaluation. The ULC is accredited by the Standards Council of Canada, under the National Standards System.

A ULC certificate is a document issued by the ULC in care of your monitoring service provider that is to be displayed at the fire alarm monitoring panel. It states that the installation, equipment, and method of communication adhere to applicable ULC standards. A ULC certificate is the only proof that your building is being monitored in accordance with applicable ULC standards.

If there is a fire alarm panel installed in the building, a fire monitoring panel and communication link to the Signals Receiving Centre (SRC) will need to be installed. Our customer service representatives will be pleased to provide you with recommendations and a quote on how to best configure a monitoring system tailored to your specific needs.

 

False Alarm Procedures

Contact the monitoring company directly to inform them of the false alarm. The operator will then contact the fire department to advise them. In some cases the fire department will still send one truck to investigate and there may be a fee which (if applicable) is determined by the municipality. There may also be an allowance of one or two false alarms before any fines. Check with your municipality.

 

Testing Your Fire Alarm

If you are testing the fire alarm you should ALWAYS notify the monitoring company. The operator will then mark the account as being “on test” in the automation system, ensuring that the fire department is not dispatched when an alarm is triggered. Likewise, you should always call your fire monitoring provider once you have finished the fire alarm system testing to have the account marked as being “back in service”. Failure to notify the fire monitoring provider when you have finished testing may result in a valid fire alarm signal not being delivered to the fire department.

 

BC Fire Code

Part of your contract for fire alarm monitoring includes keeping you informed when a part of your internal system is not functioning within the standards set by BC Fire Code. We will also keep you aware of any advances in technology that could be added into your existing system makes sure your system stays up to date with new developments further enhancing your system.

Does your building comply with the latest regulations?