Smoke alarms are an important part of a home fire escape plan. When working properly, they can cut the risk of dying in a home fire in half. For most of us, hearing the “beep – beep – beep” of our home smoke alarm is a clear signal to get out and stay out. But what if you couldn’t hear the sound of the smoke alarm?

People who are deaf (those with profound hearing loss) or hard of hearing (those with mild to severe hearing loss) can’t rely on sound to alert them to smoke or fire. Because the majority of fatal fires occur when people are sleeping – and because smoke can put people into a deeper sleep – it is important to have the necessary early warning of a fire to ensure that they wake up. Thankfully, there are technologies that appeal to other senses. Smoke alarms are available for people who are deaf which use strobe lights to wake the person. Additionally, you can install vibration equipment – like pillow or bed shakers – which are activated by the sound of the smoke alarm.

Recent research also shows that as people age, their ability to hear high-pitched sounds decreases. People with mild to severe hearing loss can use equipment that emits a mixed, low-pitched sound. This device is activated by the sound of a traditional smoke alarm. The low-pitched sound is more effective than the sound of a smoke alarm for waking people up in all age groups.

While these products use different alert methods, the same general rules for smoke alarms still apply:

Interconnection of smoke alarms is highly recommended; when one smoke alarm sounds, they all do. (This is particularly important in larger or multi-story homes, where the sound from distant smoke alarms may be reduced to the point that it may not be loud enough to provide proper warning, especially for sleeping individuals.) A licensed electrician can install hard-wired multiple-station alarms. Wireless alarms, which manufacturers have more recently begun producing, can be installed by the homeowner.There are two types of smoke alarm technologies – ionization and photoelectric. An ionization smoke alarm is generally more responsive to flaming fires – like a pan fire or the smoke from cooking. A photoelectric alarm is generally more responsive to smoldering fires – like a cigarette, overheated wiring or something hot like a space heater. Install both types of alarms in your home or combination ionization and photoelectric alarms that take advantage of both technologies.Test smoke alarms at least monthly by pushing the test button. If an alarm “chirps,” warning the battery is low, replace the battery right away.All smoke alarms, including alarms that use 10-year batteries and those that are hard-wired alarms, should be replaced when they’re 10 years old (or sooner) if they do not respond properly when tested.

Unfortunately, many homes in Putnam County, and in communities throughout the U.S., still do not have the appropriate level of smoke alarm protection. Research from the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) shows that roughly two-thirds of home fire deaths happen in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. About one in five smoke alarm failures was due to dead batteries. That’s why Putnam County Fire Rescue is teaming up with the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) during October 9-15, 2011, to let our community know: “It’s Fire Prevention Week. Protect your Family from Fire!” As always, the focus of FPW is to prevent home fires. This year, the campaign is also urging people to protect their homes and families with planning and life-saving technology — like smoke alarms!

The Putnam County Fire Department urges residents, during Fire Prevention Week and the weeks to follow, to support “It’s Fire Prevention Week. Protect your Family from Fire!” locally. We strongly encourage all to participate in improving the safety of their homes and families by learning more about the importance of smoke alarms and other ways to protect your home and family from fire.

For more information about fire safety, Putnam County Fire Rescue can be reached at (706) 485-0469 or e-mail.  For more information about Fire Prevention Week and smoke alarms, visit NFPA’s Web site at


Shane E. Hill, Chief
Putnam County Fire Rescue