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Smoke Alarms

Fire Safety and Smoke Alarms

Smoke Alarms, Fire Safety and Seniors’ Homes

For a caregiver, fire safety is a concern every day of the year.  Smoke alarms help many caregivers who are caring for elderly smokers. The fire risk is greater when there is a smoker who may not realize the dangers or is careless with lit cigarettes.  If your loved one has dementia and is smoking, you are dealing with a high-risk situation at home.

If you have noticed burnt spots on your loved one’s  clothing and on furniture at home, take action immediately to monitor, and, if  possible, to stop the person from smoking carelessly. Smokers should not be allowed to smoke in bed; in fact, they should not smoke in the bedroom at all. There are too many risks of igniting a fire or having a smoldering fire there.

Handling Smoking

If possible, find an outdoor porch where there are no ignitable materials, like foam or fabric around, and limit smoking to that location. If the smoker insists on smoking indoors, then ashtrays should be provided and the smoker should be monitored to see that cigarettes are put out completely and that clothing and furniture are not burned.

Of course, it would be best if the smoker would stop smoking completely. Ask your doctor to help the smoker  reduce or stop smoking. It will improve the health of everyone in the household, and it would eliminate a very risky fire hazard at home.


What a caregiver can do.

Caregivers, make certain you have working smoke alarms at home, with at least one on each floor, if not in every room. Certainly, put one wherever the smoker is likely to smoke. Experts say that two-thirds of deaths in residential fires occur in homes where there is not a  smoke alarm present, or the smoke alarm is not working. Replace each smoke alarm every ten years.


What kind of smoke alarm is best?

The International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) is the largest firefighters union in the US and Canada with nearly 300,000 members. In 2008, the IAFF adopted an official position recommending that only photoelectric smoke alarms be installed.

You probably don’t know what kind of smoke alarm you already have.  If the label has an “I”,   or says that it contains radioactive material, Americium-24,  then it is probably an ionization alarm. To be safe, replace any  units with photoelectric-only alarms.


Synthetic Materials can Burn More Quickly

Why?  Homes and home furnishings today contain many synthetic materials, like foam and particle board, which burn more quickly than materials in the past.  These materials create more smoke and gases as they burn. A photoelectric alarm will sound off earlier than an ionization alarm, and will give you more time to  help everyone around you get out of harm’s way as quickly as possible.


What you Should Do

Determine what kind of smoke alarm you have.  Replace ionization alarms with photo-electric smoke alarms.

  • Put photo-electric alarms where smoke will probably occur: kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms.
  • Check the manufacturing date on the alarm, and replace the alarms every 10 years.
  • Replace the batteries on a regular schedule.
  • Check the smoke alarms each month, so you know they that do work.


A few moments spent on fire safety will ease your worries and protect you and your loved ones and your property from fire dangers.  This week is Fire Prevention Week, and this is the perfect time to take action.


For more fire safety tips, see the website of the National Fire Prevention Association


Reference: Smoke Alarms and the Modern Residence Fire by UL, Northbrook, Ill.,  Copyright UL, 2012.

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