One of the biggest issues seen with smoke alarms is their age. Many people don't realize that smoke alarms have a "shelf life" to them and should be replaced after ten years at the latest. There's an old saying that "smoke alarms don't come in yellow". So one of the first indicators of the age of your smoke alarm is actually the color. If it is old and yellow looking, it is probably in need of replacement. All smoke alarms are printed with a manufacturing date as well so if you aren't sure on the age of your units, check the back of the alarm for the printed date. Replace if necessary.
SMOKE ALARM PLACEMENT
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has very specific rules on where smoke alarms should be placed and how they should be mounted to the wall and/or ceiling. We commonly see random smoke alarm placement or lack of smoke alarms in necessary areas. There's a lot to cover and all of the specifics can be found at the NFPA website. Here is a partial list for your reference.
Choose smoke alarms that have the label of a recognized testing laboratory. (UL, etc)
Install smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement.
On levels without bedrooms, install alarms in the living room (or den or family room) or near the stairway to the upper level, or in both locations.
Smoke alarms installed in the basement should be installed on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs leading to the next level.· Smoke alarms should be installed at least 10 feet (3 meters) from a cooking appliance to minimize false alarms when cooking.
Mount smoke alarms high on walls or ceilings (remember, smoke rises). Wall-mounted alarms should be installed not more than 12 inches away from the ceiling (to the top of the alarm).
If you have ceilings that are pitched, install the alarm within 3 feet of the peak but not within the apex of the peak by keeping them at least 4" from the peak.
TYPE OF SMOKE ALARM
Most smoke alarms are ionization type smoke alarms (pictured) and, while providing some protection, it has been discovered through research that they can fail quite a bit of the time. Particularly during cold/smoky fires. A far superior smoke alarm would be the "photoelectric" smoke alarm but, like ionization alarms, they also have their deficiencies. Most notably in detecting fast burning/hot fires. Fires with lots of flames. Most state and local codes now recommend a "dual sensor" smoke alarm for your home that includes both ionization and photoelectric sensors in each unit. WARNING! It is common language for "dual sensor" smoke alarms to be ionization OR photoelectric and CO (carbon monoxide). While it is true that they have dual sensors, they are not the right type of dual sensors. In my opinion CO monitors should be a completely separate device from your smoke alarms.
STEPS TO TAKE RIGHT NOW
Assess the number and placement of your smoke alarms and add more if necessary.
Assess the age of your smoke alarms and replace if necessary.
Assess the age of your batteries/battery backups and replace if necessary.
Assess the quality of your smoke alarms and contact a professional to upgrade them if necessary.
If any bedrooms are on the 2nd floor, purchase fire ladders if the drop is too far.
Sleep with your doors closed. This prevents toxic gases and smoke from entering your bedroom in the event of a fire.
Practice "Exit Drills In The Home" (E.D.I.T.H.) with your family so that everyone knows how to get out and where to go in the event of a fire.
Purchase a fire extinguisher and place it in your master bedroom. Why? If a fire occurs at night, you don't want to be trapped in your bedroom if you need to get down the hall to help It's also a good idea to have fire extinguishers in the kitchen and garage.
We urge you to not take fire safety lightly. Almost weekly we hear about a home lost to a fire and nearly as often it includes loss of life. After assessing your current level of fire safety preparedness in your home, please take the next steps to improve your situation.