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Smoke alarms, sprinklers save lives
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Smoke alarms can save lives.
Every home should have at least one working smoke alarm.

Working smoke alarms can double the chances of surviving a home fire.

In the 1960's, the average U.S. citizen had never heard of a smoke alarm. By 1995, an estimated 93 percent of all American homes - single, multi-family, apartments, nursing homes, dormitories, and more - were equipped with alarms.

By the mid 1980's, smoke alarm laws, requiring that alarms be placed in all new and existing residences - existed in 38 states and thousands of municipalities nationwide. And smoke alarm provisions have been adopted by all of the model building code organizations.

Fire services across the country have played a major and influential public education role in alerting the public to the benefits of smoke alarms. Another key factor in this huge and rapid penetration of both the marketplace and the builder community has been the development and marketing of low cost alarms by commercial companies.

In the early 1970's, the cost of protecting a three bedroom home with professionally installed alarms was about $1,000; today the cost of owner-installed alarms in the same house has come down to as little as $10 per alarm, or less than $50 for the entire home. This cost structure, combined with effective public education caused a huge percentage of America's consumers, whether they are renting or buying, to demand smoke alarm protection. The impact of smoke alarms on fire safety and protection is dramatic and can be simply stated.

When fire breaks out, the smoke alarm, functioning as an early warning system, reduces the risk of dying by nearly 50 percent. Alarms are most people's first line of defense against fire.

In the event of a fire, properly installed and maintained smoke alarms will provide an early warning signal to your household. This alarm can save lives by providing the chance to escape.

A smoke alarm is the single most important means of preventing house and apartment fire fatalities by providing an early warning signal. Smoke alarms are one of the best safety features a person can buy and install to protect themselves, their family and their home.

A smoke alarm should be installed on every level of the home, including the basement. Many fatal fires begin late at night or in the early morning. For extra safety, install smoke alarms both inside and outside the sleeping area.

Also, smoke alarms should be installed on the ceiling or 6 to 8 inches below the ceiling on side walls. Since smoke and many deadly gases rise, installing smoke alarms at the proper level will provide the earliest warning possible. Always follow the manufacturer's installation instructions.

Many hardware, home supply or general merchandise stores carry smoke alarms. Make sure the alarm is UL-listed. For assistance, call a local fire department. Some fire departments offer smoke alarms for little or no cost.

Smoke alarms are not hard to install. In most cases, all one will need is a screwdriver. Many brands are self-adhesive and will automatically stick to the wall or ceiling where they are placed. However, be sure to follow the directions from the manufacturer, because each brand is different. Don't be afraid to ask for help from a relative or friend or the local fire department.

Smoke alarms are very easy to take care of. There are two steps to remember.

1. Simply replace the batteries at least once a year.

Tip: Pick a holiday or other special date and replace the batteries each year on that day. Some smoke alarms now on the market come with a ten-year battery. These alarms are designed to be replaced as a whole unit, thus avoiding the need for battery replacement. If the smoke alarm starts making a "chirping" noise, replace the batteries and reset it.

2. Keep smoke alarms clean. Dust and debris can interfere with their operation, so vacuum over and around the smoke alarm regularly.

Do not disable a smoke alarm if it alarms due to cooking or other non-fire causes. Instead, clear the air by waving a towel near the alarm, leaving the batteries in place. The alarm may have to be moved to a new location.

A smoke alarm should last about eight-to-ten years, after which it should be replaced. Like most electrical devices, smoke alarms wear out. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for replacement.

Some smoke alarms are considered to be "hard wired." This means they are connected to the household electrical system and may or may not have battery back-up. It's important to test every smoke alarm monthly. And always use new batteries when replacing old ones.

Home sprinkler systems

Studies by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's United States Fire Administration indicate that the installation of residential fire sprinkler systems could have saved thousands of lives; prevented a large portion of those injuries; and eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in property losses.

When home fire sprinklers are used with working smoke alarms, chances of surviving a fire are greatly increased. Sprinklers are affordable - they can increase property value and lower insurance rates.

Using quick response sprinklers and approved piping, homes can be built or even retrofitted to include low-cost automatic sprinkler systems connected to the domestic water supply.

Sprinkler systems offer advantages to the homebuilder:

- A low-cost reliable safety option that would attract many buyers.

- Trade-offs between sprinklers and code requirements that can result in lower construction costs, more units per area of land, etc.

For homeowners, the advantages include assurance of a safer environment for their families, protection of their investment and irreplaceable family possessions and lower insurance rates 5 to 15 percent.

Residential sprinklers, listed by UL, are now available. They are designed to respond to a fire much faster than currently available standard commercial and industrial sprinkler systems. The new home sprinklers react automatically to fires more quickly because of their improved sensitivity.

At the present time, cost of a home sprinkler system is targeted at approximately $1.00 to $1.50 per square foot in new construction. It is hoped that the cost will decrease as the use of home fire protection grows. It is also possible to retrofit existing homes with sprinkler systems.

For residential systems, the sprinklers will be smaller than traditional, commercial and industrial sprinklers, and can be aesthetically coordinated with any room decor.

When homes are under construction or being remodeled, a home sprinkler system will require minimal extra piping and labor.

These systems will require less water than the systems installed in industrial or commercial establishments and can be connected to the domestic water supply.

In addition to metallic pipe, the use of plastic pipe has brought down the cost of installation in new construction and the retrofit of existing structures.

Through the use of construction trade-offs, homebuilders and developers can achieve reduced construction costs if residential sprinkler systems are installed. Home sprinkler systems offer both safety and financial advantages to homebuyers, a rare combination.

A fire occurs in a residential structure every 79 seconds, according to the USFA. To the homebuilder, this fact means that a large share of potential customers now have knowledge of the terror and destruction caused by fire.

Families with children, senior citizens, and handicapped members have special fire protection needs. Home sprinkler systems provide added protection for these people.

In case of a home fire, firefighters will have less risk of injury or life loss since they will be fighting a fire of less intensity.

Allocation of community resources can be improved with the adoption of home sprinkler technology.

Communities will be able to make better utilization of available land and thereby increase their tax base.

Insurance from homeowner underwriters will vary depending on type of coverage. The discounts now range between 5 to 15 percent, with a projected increase in available discounts.

The U.S. Fire Administration's research in home fire sprinkler systems successfully focused on systems that would be low cost, fast acting and reliable. As a result, residential fire sprinklers have gained increased acceptance.

In November 1980, the National Fire Protection Association adopted the NFPA 13D Residential Sprinkler installation standard. The standard is based on technical data from the comprehensive full-scale fire tests, which were sponsored by the U.S. Fire Administration.

Dedicated to reducing this Nation's staggering loss of life and property caused by fire, the USFA has joined with private industry and the fire service to advance the development of residential sprinklers. Since 1976, the Fire Administration has promoted research studies, development and testing, and demonstrations of residential sprinkler systems.

For more information, visit www.usfa.fema.gov.
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