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This week is Fire Prevention Week (FPW), an annual campaign organized by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to raise fire safety awareness. Fire Prevention Week, declared a national observance by President Calvin Coolidge in 1925, commemorates the Great Chicago Fire in October 1871. The large fire destroyed thousands of homes and buildings and killed more than 250 people.

No one is immune to the danger of fire, and literal seconds can often mean the difference between life and death. This year’s FPW theme is “Learn the Sounds of Fire Safety.” It focuses on the different sounds that smoke and carbon monoxide alarms make and what to do when you hear them. Any noise coming from an alarm means something and should never be ignored. If a fire begins without warning, you may only have minutes to escape.

Functioning smoke alarms reduce the chance of home fire fatalities by 55 percent. Still, homeowners often neglect to change their batteries or get frustrated with unexplained beeping and remove them altogether, putting their families at risk. Every smoke alarm in your home should be tested monthly.

New Jersey smoke alarm regulations, updated in 2019, require 10-year sealed battery smoke alarms to be retrofitted in any homes or motel rooms built before 1977; any homes built after that year require hardwired detectors. 

Smoke Alarm Sounds & Safety Tips

Thirty-four people died last year in New Jersey house fires, including a five-year-old child. Fire can devastate any type of home, from single-family to apartment complexes, and the after-effects of surviving them can be physically, financially and emotionally traumatic for years to come. And unless a fire erupts in the room you’re in, it can burn unnoticed until you’re trapped. 

A U.S. fire department responds to a fire every 24 seconds – more than 30,000 a year in New Jersey. In 2019 alone, fires killed approximately 3,700 people nationwide and caused nearly $15 billion in property damage. 

There are many common causes of house or structure fires, including but not limited to:

  • Faulty electrical wiring
  • Defective household appliances 
  • Neglected smoke alarms
  • Discarded cigarettes
  • Cooking

In 2016, a family with 17 people living in one New Jersey home barely escaped with their lives when a basement fire began in the middle of the night. Two of the children heard the alarm and woke the others, and everyone escaped to safety inside their cars before calling 911. If their alarms hadn’t been working or the children hadn’t known to investigate the beeping, their entire family may have perished.

Knowing what to listen for and how to react to your smoke alarm is crucial to keeping you and your family safe. Most importantly, if you hear a repeating set of three loud beeps (beep, beep, beep), evacuate immediately. That means smoke or fire is somewhere inside the house.

Chirping is much less urgent but still should never be ignored. Your alarm will chirp every 30 to 60 seconds when the batteries need to be replaced. 

Note that if your unit uses regular batteries, you can just replace them when it chirps. But if you have a newer model with sealed long-life batteries, you must replace the entire unit if it chirps. You’ll also need to do this if your standard battery alarm keeps chirping after its batteries have been replaced or if the unit is more than ten years old. Finally, also remember that you should test your alarms at least every month. Most units have a “test” button.

Here are some additional smoke alarm safety tips:

  • Install a smoke alarm in every bedroom, on every floor and in the basement 
  • Interconnected alarms are best as they will all sound if one does
  • Newer models may be more sensitive to conditions and produce false alarms; keep them high up and away from the stove, so they don’t go off every time you cook
  • Install special models for Deaf or hard-of-hearing people that include bed shakers and lights

Many newer models can detect both smoke/fire and carbon monoxide using multi-sense technology. Unlike smoke or fire, carbon monoxide is completely silent and invisible. 

Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer

Carbon monoxide (CO), commonly known as the “silent killer,” is an invisible poisonous gas that humans cannot smell or taste. It’s imperative to have detection devices for both fire and CO leaks in your home. Nearly 500 Americans die from CO poisoning every year. 

Anything that burns fuel can produce CO – such as your fireplace, furnace, dryer vent, stove or vehicle. Regular maintenance of these and other devices helps reduce the chances of a CO leak. Also, be sure never to run your car in a closed garage. 

CO alarms will activate when they sense a dangerous amount of gas has built up over time. They have multiple types of sensors to detect changes, and once they are triggered, they won’t shut off until their environment is CO-free again.

While smoke alarms use three loud beeps to signal that it’s time to evacuate, CO alarms have four loud beeps. If you hear “beep, beep, beep, beep,” followed by a pause – get out of the house right away and call 911.

CO alarms will chirp every minute when their batteries are low; chirps after new batteries are installed means it’s time to replace the unit. Five beeps per minute usually indicate the end of the alarm’s life; CO alarms only last between 5-7 years on average. Test them monthly and replace the batteries every six months. 

Like smoke detectors, it’s recommended that CO alarms be on every floor, in every bedroom and near the garage. They can be placed anywhere in the room. In most cases it is legally required to have enough alarms to meet regulations. Purchasing a combination model that can detect smoke, fire and CO in one unit may be a convenient choice. 

Fire Accidents Due to Negligence 

Unfortunately, you may take every precaution and still be a victim of a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning, through no fault of your own. Navigating the aftermath of these tragedies is impossible enough, but what if the cause was negligence by a property owner or defective equipment? If you suspect this to be the case, lawyers experienced in the lengthy fire investigation process should be consulted right away. The New Jersey personal injury lawyers at D’Arcy Johnson Day can guide you through the aftermath of a fire accident. For a free case review, give us a call toll-free at (866) 327-2952 or visit us online today.

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