Upper Arlington News

Guest column

Two types of detectors needed for fire safety

By JEFF YOUNG
 • 

The call came in reporting a fire in the basement. That's bad.

No one was hurt. That's good -- because the detectors didn't sound until after the occupants had smelled smoke, realized there was a fire and evacuated to call 911.

This isn't an anecdotal example from a far off place -- this happened in Upper Arlington at the end of March. It was one of your neighbors. It was for real.

Arriving firefighters entered the home and encountered an acrid black smoke, but little heat. Fire crews worked their way to the lower level and found a small fire where an unattended candle had burned all the way down, then toppled over and ignited the plastic table it was sitting on.

There was no detector in the lower level. The one that eventually sounded was located in the hallway outside the bedrooms. That's a good place, but it was far-removed from the fire's origin.

So-called "smoke" detectors have been the subject of much controversy of late in both the fire service and the mass media. A recent Dateline show on NBC examined the subject in depth.

So, what's the argument about? The fact that 95 percent of the homes in this country have ionization detectors -- you know, the ones that are really inexpensive and have that note on the package stating they contain a small amount of radiation.

The radiation isn't a problem. These units contain less than what some televisions emit. The issue is how they are designed to alarm.

Photoelectric detectors will sense smoke faster than ionization detectors. And we've known for some time that smoke is the cause of death in most fire fatalities.

That's why the Upper Arlington Fire Division has for years officially recommended that residents have a mix of photoelectric and ionization, or combination units that use both technologies.

You need both because no one can predict whether a fire in your home will be quick and flaming or smoldering and smoky. Common sense, right?

Not so. Despite pleas from the professional fire service, there has been push-back from the industry.

Ionization detectors are still cheaper and easier to find at stores and online. Not only that, but even savvy consumers who want to purchase photoelectric units are often hard-pressed to untangle the packaging descriptions to determine if they have found what they want.

So our charge to you is this: If you have existing detectors, determine what kind they are and make sure you have both photoelectric and ionization (or dual-purpose) units.

If you have none, go out and buy some. Install detectors in the hall outside your bedrooms and on every other level of your home. You should also put them inside the bedrooms. The only poor locations for detectors are kitchens, bathrooms and garages because of the tendency for false alarms from cooking, steam and vehicle exhaust.

Finally, don't overlook us as a valuable resource for information, helping you with selecting proper locations, and with installation of your detectors.

Use the example of your neighbor's real-life basement fire to overcome any complacency about this subject.

We have no skin in this game except your safety.

Jeff Young is chief of the Upper Arlington Fire Division.

Comments