Working with the Media to Disseminate Smoke Detector Facts and Myths

The smoke alarm is a topic the media likes to bring up in their stories , but sometimes their information is not completely accurate.If there is one invention that has saved tens of thousands of lives, it has to be the smoke alarm. The smoke alarm is a...


The smoke alarm is a topic the media likes to bring up in their stories , but sometimes their information is not completely accurate.

If there is one invention that has saved tens of thousands of lives, it has to be the smoke alarm. The smoke alarm is a topic the media likes to bring up in their stories related to fires. Sometimes the information they use is not completely accurate. It is not that they are trying to be deceitful, it's because they do not have all the facts about smoke alarms. Here is some information about smoke alarms that every firefighter should know, especially when working with the media. It's also a good thing to know in case the public ask you.

Smoke alarms made their introduction in the early 1970's, a time when nearly 15,000 people were dying in fires each year in the United States. The first smoke alarms were expensive; approximately $75 to $100 each and they had a special battery in them that had to be replaced each year that cost approximately $10 each. I still have our first smoke alarm. We were proud that our family had one in the house, most people didn't.

Usually a salesperson would go door to door selling them in a neighborhood where a fire fatality recently occurred. Even the fire department I was a member of sold them as a moneymaking project; most were bought by the firefighters themselves. Most people were still not sure about them or if they could not afford the detectors.

As time went by, smoke alarms in the 1980's became less expensive and the common nine-volt battery was used. Now many more people could afford them, so their use was becoming more common.

A problem came up because people would not replace the battery. It was estimated in the mid 80's that only about 60% of the homes in the country had smoke alarms, but it was also estimated that nearly half of those were not functional because the battery was dead, or people would take the battery out to use in a toy or some other electronic device.

The wired-in model was introduced so you would never have to purchase a battery. But many times the electricity goes out when a fire starts in a building so the smoke alarm would not be able to work. In the late 80's-early 90's the wired-in smoke alarm with a battery back up was introduced. Smoke alarms by the early 1990's were more commonplace because they were inexpensive, and many fire departments were providing them to citizens free of charge.

As more smoke alarms were being used, more stories of "saves" started to surface and the media was taking notice. As they did more interviews and stories, more people heard about the smoke alarm, prompting them to go out and get one for themselves. One of my favorite stories was about a smoke alarm that was being given as a Christmas present and was sitting under the Christmas tree all wrapped up. The tree caught fire and the smoke alarm activated, alerting the occupants who escaped unharmed. True story.

Today smoke alarms are very common and required by fire codes in many parts of the country. Fire fatalities in the United States have been cut by two-thirds and the smoke alarm can take most of the credit. Today, the media still emphasizes the use of smoke alarms and if there is a save, you should take advantage of the situation and promote it.

In the past few years the media has highlighted smoke alarms in two areas; different types of smoke alarms and their effectiveness and children not waking up to smoke alarms. Here is some information you can use for both the media and the general public.

Study Shows Devices Not As Effective with Children
Children not waking to smoke alarms. In recent years one area that the media likes to pick on from time to time is the subject of children not waking to the sound of an activated smoke alarm. This should be of no surprise. Here are the reasons:

It is a medical fact, children are deep sleepers. Usually they do not hear much while they are asleep and this can last from the time they are newborn until their middle teens.

This content continues onto the next page...