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The Scene

Commissioner’s Column

Working smoke alarms save lives; do you have one?
By Mike Causey

Insurance Commissioner

Smoke alarms cut the chances of dying in a home fire in half. Do you have one in your home? Is it working?

This weekend, many fire departments across the state will take part in Smoke Alarm Saturday. Firefighters will be canvassing neighborhoods, knocking on doors and asking residents if they have a working smoke alarm. If the resident wants, firefighters will make sure their smoke alarm is properly installed and working. If there is no smoke alarm in the home, firefighters will install one.

Smoke Alarm Saturday is just the kickoff for the lifesaving campaign. Some fire departments will participate this weekend. Some will have their campaigns at other times during the year.

Last year, there were 151 fire fatalities in North Carolina. So far this year, there have been 60.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, families have an average of three minutes to get out of their homes after a fire sets off a smoke alarm. However, those life-saving minutes only occur when alarms are installed and working properly.

Homes in North Carolina may have different types of smoke alarms. Here are some tips for making sure your smoke alarm is in working order:

•Many newer smoke alarms come with non-replaceable 10-year batteries, designed to remain effective for up to 10 years. If the alarm chirps, it is sending a warning that the battery is low. Replace the smoke alarm right away.

•Smoke alarms with any other type of battery need a new battery at least once a year. If the alarm chirps, it too is sending a message that the battery needs to be replaced right away.

•When replacing a battery, follow the manufacturer’s list of batteries on the back of the alarm or manufacturers instructions that came with the alarm.

It’s also important to test your smoke alarm regularly, at least monthly, to make sure the battery is operational and the alarm is working properly.

Here are some other tips to make sure your smoke alarm is installed properly and your family is prepared for a fire emergency:

•Place a smoke alarm on every level of your home outside sleeping areas. If you keep bedroom doors shut, place a smoke alarm in each bedroom.

•Teach children what the smoke alarm sounds like and what to do when they hear it.

•Prepare and practice an escape plan. Have a home fire drill. Know at least two ways out of a room. If there is smoke present, crawl under the smoke. Plan for a meeting space outside, away from the building.

•Keep smoke alarms clean by regularly vacuuming over and around it. Dust and debris can interfere with its operation.

•Install smoke alarms away from windows, doors or ducts that can interfere with their operation.

•Never remove the battery or disable a smoke alarm. If your smoke alarm is sounding nuisance alarms, try locating it further from kitchens or bathrooms.

If you have further questions about smoke alarms or fire prevention, you may call your local fire department or go to the Office of State Fire Marshal’s web page at Click on the “Fire Prevention & Education” tab.