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Trust, but verify, your life safety technology
For as long as I can remember, firefighters have been known for their twice-a-year reminder to change your smoke alarm batteries when you change your clocks. However, since most new smoke alarms (including all of ours) ship with ten-year lithium batteries and low-battery alarms, I stopped paying attention some time ago. Instead of climbing the stepladder twice a year to swap out the batteries, I just go ahead and trust that they will bellow when their batteries get low.
Last Sunday, I got an e-mail from a good friend of ours in DC. At about 7am Saturday morning, she awakened to the sound of the smoke alarm in her small apartment. She quickly noticed the flames shooting out of the top of her electric stove and jumped out of bed. Fortunately for herself and her neighbors, she had the presence of mind to grab the fire extinguisher, put out the fire, and call 911. She, and her dog, are uninjured, and the damage is limited to a few destroyed appliances and a mess of soot and dry chemical to clean up.
This story ends well because she had a working smoke detector and a charged fire extinguisher.
For the first time in an embarrassingly long time, I tested our smoke detectors. The one purchased last year (with a permanent set of batteries) tested fine, but the one nearest our bedroom was another story:
Me: "This is a test!" *click*
Smoke detector: ...
Me: "That... was a failure."
I plucked the detector off of the wall and replaced its original battery, easily eight years old, and it now works again. I also tested our CO detector, which I walk past a dozen times a day. I hadn't tested it since buying this house seven years ago, and sure enough, it was dead.
Both have low-battery indicators and should have let us know when they were low. But we trusted a single, fallible feature with our lives, when the "Test" button was right there the whole time. Obviously, they would let us know they weren't working... right‽
So, if you haven't done so lately, change the batteries in your smoke and CO detectors. Batteries are cheap. If a smoke detector is more than ten years old, or if your CO detector is more than five years old, replace it. They, too, are inexpensive, especially when you consider the consequences of not having them in good working order when you need them. You should have a smoke detector on each level of your home, and outside of each bedroom. Also, make sure you have properly-sized fire extinguishers where you need them, and that they are in good working order.
If you don't have the means to ensure this equipment is in good working order, perhaps due to physical or financial constraints, call your local fire department. They will help you out. If you can't afford a smoke detector or CO detector and your fire department won't help, drop me an e-mail.
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