October is Fire Prevention Month.


COLUMBIA, Mo. – Even if you regularly check the batteries and test your home smoke detectors, you may not be alerted if a fire breaks out.

Residential fires accounted for 83 percent of fire deaths in the United States during 2011-2013. Deaths are twice as high in homes without smoke alarms or with nonworking alarms, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

“If smoke alarms are over 10 years old, you should look at a replacement plan,” said Dave Hedrick, director of University of Missouri Extension’s Fire and Rescue Training Institute. “Over time, smoke alarms lose their sensitivity and, of course, there have been improvements in the newer models.”

Hedrick recommends replacing older units with dual-sensor models. “Smoke detectors with ionization and photoelectric sensors have the ability to activate the quickest in fire situations.”

Smoke detectors should be tested monthly, and the batteries should be changed regularly. Some newer models have longer-life lithium batteries, so it may not be necessary to change the batteries at the beginning and end of daylight saving time, as is often recommended. Be sure to check the requirements for each alarm in your home, Hedrick said.

Early detection means having an adequate number of alarms, Hedrick said. Smoke alarms should be installed on each level of the home. Larger homes may require more than one on each level for ample coverage.

In addition, fire prevention experts recommend installing smoke alarms inside and outside each bedroom, as well as near gas furnaces and water heaters.

Just as important, Hedrick said, “You need a plan for what you're going to do when it goes off. At the point you have an emergency is not the time to figure out what you have to do.”

Family members need to know what the smoke detector sounds like and how to get out of the house. “You should have two means of escape in each room,” he said.

Hedrick said families should practice these activities so family members are familiar with the process.

Finally, families should designate a meeting place outside the home should a fire occur. “This way you know everybody has gotten out safely, and you can let emergency responders know when they arrive,” Hedrick said.