News | Oct. 1, 2021

Learn the sounds of fire safety

By Fire Inspector Eric Crognale, DLA Installation Management Richmond, Fire Prevention Office

The Defense Logistics Agency Installation Management Richmond’s Fire Prevention Office is observing National Fire Prevention Week Oct. 3 - 9.

The National Fire Protection Associations’ Fire Prevention Week 2021 Campaign theme is “Learn the Sounds of Fire Safety!"

According to the NFPA, Fire Prevention Week has been observed since 1922 in memory of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which destroyed more than 17,400 structures, 2,000 acres of land and killed more than 250 people.

Today, we have access to technologies that warn us of impending fire emergencies and give us time to escape. Early detection of smoke, carbon monoxide, and other products of combustion are crucial to survival. 

Know the sounds that your detection devices make and what those sounds mean. Some brands of smoke detectors will emit sets of three or four beeps when smoke is detected, while others will beep continuously. Similarly, carbon monoxide detectors will have their own distinct beeping patterns, depending on the manufacturer.

If you or anyone in your home has difficulty hearing, models exist that will also emit flashes of light when activated, or that can cause a bed or pillow to vibrate.

If any device is emitting a single beep or flash once per minute, this usually indicates a low battery. Changing your batteries once every six months will keep your detectors operating without interruption.

Ionization smoke detectors use the radioactive material americium to form a flow of positively and negatively charged ions. The detector activates when the products of combustion interfere with this flow of ions. 

Americium is not dangerous to you or your family if you don’t tamper with the device. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that the flow of radioactive particles “can be shielded by a layer as thin as a layer of dead skin cells” so you can handle and dispose of these devices safely without special equipment. 

Ionization sensors respond better to fast burning, flaming fires while photoelectric smoke detectors respond better to slow burning, smoldering fires that produce a lot of smoke. 

Photoelectric sensors use a narrow beam of light shining onto a sensor. When smoke passes between the light source and the sensor, the light beam will be refracted, which triggers the alarm. 

The NFPA recommends using both types of sensors in your home or workplace to maximize protection. Devices that combine both sensors in one package are available.

Carbon monoxide, often referred to as CO, detectors work a bit differently from smoke detectors; they draw in air continually, measuring carbon monoxide levels over time. These detectors are especially important to have in your home or office because CO is colorless, odorless and tasteless, so people cannot detect it without the help of a device. The alarm sounds on a CO detector vary in intensity depending on how much CO is present in the air, so check the manual that came with your device.

Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors should be installed in any home or workplace that uses combustion for heat or power, such as fuel-burning generators, gas-burning stoves and fuel oil. 

Be careful when operating combustion machinery such as vehicles and gas-powered generators in or near enclosed spaces because carbon monoxide can enter your home through gaps in your walls. A vehicle running in an attached garage can also push CO into your home through doors and seams. 

Installing and maintaining detection devices in your home and workplace can mean the difference between escaping an emergency in time and being caught up in it. Take the time to learn about the devices that will give you early warnings of smoke or deadly gas buildup, and how they warn you of danger. Check your device batteries regularly, test them frequently, and replace them in accordance with the manufacturers’ recommendations.