Electricity shares blame, credit in household fires

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Too often, when authorities make a news report following a fire, "electrical" is listed as a suspected cause.

It's true that electricity can cause destruction when it's not confined to the proper circuits -- or occurs in the wild, such as the bolt of lightning that ripped the bark from a tree on West 10th Street Sunday evening.

But a minor amount of electricity, in the form that powers smoke detectors, can save lives. That's the theme of this year's Fire Prevention Week, "Working Smoke Alarms Save Lives -- Test Yours Every Month!"

There's truth in that theme.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, almost three of five home fire deaths from 2007 to 2011 resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms, or no working smoke alarms.

If you have working smoke alarms, your risk of dying is cut in half.

In fires large enough to set off smoke alarms, hardwired alarms operated 93 percent of the time, while battery powered alarms operated only 79 percent of the time. When they did fail to go off, it was usually because the batteries were missing, disconnected or dead.

An ionization smoke alarm is generally more responsive to flaming fires and a photoelectric smoke alarm is generally more responsive to smoldering fires. For the best protection, or where extra time is needed to awaken or assist others, both types of alarms, or combination ionization and photoelectric alarms are recommended.

We've heard advertisements for smoke alarms with long-life batteries, and can't vouch for their safety, but we do have one caution if you do choose to change batteries on a regular basis.

If, out of an abundance of caution, you do change out a battery that still contains a charge, handle that battery with care. The 9-volt battery commonly used in smoke detectors can pack quite a punch -- did anyone ever trick you into touching your tongue to the contacts? If you dispose of a live battery, make sure the contacts can't short, creating a fire in the process.

A better idea would be to swap it out into another less critical electronic device and run it until it is dead, then dispose of it properly, preferably through recycling.

While about half of home electrical fires involve electrical distribution or lighting equipment, other causes include washer or dryer, fan, portable or stationary space heater, air conditioning equipment, water heater or range.

Other common causes of fires include cooking, smoking materials and candles.

We're enjoying some warm fall weather, but it won't be long until it will feel good to hunker down inside our homes with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate while snow flies outside.

Let's make sure our dwelling is a safe place to enjoy the winter months this year.

Check out more fire safety information at http://bit.ly/1tveELc

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