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    WASHINGTON, Oct 29, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) is urging households to change more than just smoke alarm batteries when Daylight Savings Time ends November 2. The IAFF also recommends changing to a photoelectric smoke alarm. About 90 percent of homes are equipped with ionization smoke alarms.

    "More than 3,000 people die each year in the United States and Canada in structure fires, and we need to do everything we can to reduce that number," IAFF General President Harold A. Schaitberger said. "Using better smoke alarms will drastically reduce the loss of life among citizens and fire fighters because it will mean earlier detection of fires and result in faster response by emergency crews."

    The IAFF in August said federal, state and provincial officials should require that all relevant building standards and codes developed in the United States and Canada include a mandate for the use of photoelectric smoke alarms. Research has demonstrated that photoelectric smoke alarms are more effective at warning of smoke from smoldering fires than ionization smoke alarms. With earlier warning, people have more time to escape a burning structure and call 911 sooner. Photoelectric smoke alarms also are less susceptible to nuisance alarms. To prevent nuisance alarms, citizens often disable smoke alarms, placing themselves, others in a home or building and fire fighters at greater risk.

    Photoelectric smoke alarms contain a light source and a light-sensitive electric cell. Smoke entering the detector deflects light onto the light-sensitive electric cell, triggering the alarm. These alarms are more sensitive to large particles given off during smoldering fires -- the kind of fires that typically occur at night when people are asleep.

    Ionization smoke alarms have a small amount of radioactive material, and establish a small electric current between two metal plates, which sound an alarm when disrupted by smoke entering the chamber. But the technology leads to a delayed warning in smoldering fires that can lead to greater loss of life among people and fire fighters in a burning structure as a result of a more developed fire. A delayed warning during a smoldering fire, especially at night, can incapacitate people who are sleeping and lead to death as fire spreads.

    No home should be without a smoke alarm, and ionization alarms should continue to be used until a home can be equipped with photoelectric alarms.

    The International Association of Fire Fighters, headquartered in Washington, D.C., represents more than 292,000 full-time professional fire fighters and paramedics who protect 85 percent of the nation's population.More information is available at www.iaff.org 

    SOURCE: International Association of Fire Fighters

    Bill Glanz, 202-824-1566
    cell: 202-329-5856

    Joseph Fleming
    1st Item to Consider - Some people feel that the biggest problem we have is just getting people to use smoke alarms.
    This is a problem but according to the NFPA over 95% of the US currently has alarms. In addition the % of fatalities with operating alarms appears to be similar to the % of fatalities with no alarms. In addition, according to the USFA, this % has doubled since the late 80’s. (19% in 1998 to 39% in 2001.) WHY?

    From 1/1/2006 to 9/1/2008
    Smoke Alarm Status in Fatal Fires for Oregon
    Source: http://www.oregon.gov/OSP/SFM/Reports_2007.shtml#Civilian_Fire_Fatality_Report
    (Distributing Undetermined)
    (Distributing Undetermined)
    Other Sources
    (2005 Fatality Report)
    NFPA (2007)
    Non-confined Fires
    (2006 Report)
    Note: In Massachusetts there appears to be fewer “Undetermined.” It appears that most of these were determined to have operated.
    Obviously the problem of people dying with operating alarms is huge. Although I have often heard it repeated that having a smoke alarm, (which for al practical purpose means an ion alarm), reduces your chances of dying by 50%, I doubt the validity of this %.
    • According to the NFPA for 1999-2001 and using NFIRS Version 5.0 data the reduction in risk was only, 7%. (Smoke Alarms 2004, page 14) Even using “adjusted data” that combines Vers. 4 and Vers. 5 for multi-family dwelling the reduction in risk was also only 7% (Smoke Alarms 2004, page 12).
    • According to the NFPA, for “Non-Confined” Fires the reduction in risk between an operating alarm and no alarm is only 14% (Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves why this % is so low?)
    In my opinion, the IAFF is absolutely correct in emphasizing the use of photo technology to address this problem.
    2nd Item to Consider – Some believe that we do not want to confuse the public or give the impression that smoke alarms do not work or else they will not maintain what they have now.
    First the IAFF encourages people to maintain what they have now. They do not take the position that ion alarms provide no benefit, only that photos provide more of a benefit.
    Secondly, of all there is no proof that people will ignore what they currently have if they are told that something might be better.
    Third there is some evidence that by emphasizing the benefit of photo technology you are reminding them about the benefit of smoke alarms in general and the maintenance of even existing ions may increase. I think the US experience with seat belt may be instructive.
    When air bags were encouraged by the federal government, starting in 1984, one could argue that they were stating that seat belts ere not the optimum technology. Despite implying that seat belts alone were inadequate, the usage of seat belts has increased steadily since that time.
    Chart1: Belt Use Trends*
    in total crashes - from police reports
    in towed crashes - from investigation and police reports
    in the front seat in daytime - from observation
    I think if we emphasis the importance of proper smoke alarm warning to prevent injury from fire, more people will choose photo but, more people will pay attention to their current smoke alarm, whether ion or photo.

    3rd Item to Consider – Does Hard-wiring smoke detectors "solve” the nuisance problem? 
    According to the NFPA (2007 Smoke Alarm Report)
    ·         26% of apartment fatalities have alarms present but not operational.
    ·         23% of 1-2 family fatalities have alarm present but not operational.
    According to the USFA

    SMOKE ALARM STATUS(Fire in the US 92-01)
    Present Did Not Operate
    1-2 FAMILY
    So according to the NFPA and the USFA the % of fatalities with detectors present that did not operate was higher in apartments than it was for 1-2 families. The USFA expresses concern with this fact. “This result is unexpected as apartment alarms are more likely to be hard-wired into the electrical system and professionally maintained than alarms in dwellings.”
    While this is unexpected to the USFA it should not be to anyone who realizes that in most apartments the alarm will have to be installed near kitchens and bathrooms and that people will still disable then even when hard-wired, if they are ionization. I think this logic would be applicable to 10 year battery detectors as well. (Note; the % of alarms present but non-operational was higher in Oregon than in the US as a whole.)
    4th Item to Consider – Do “hush buttons” solves the nuisance problem.
    In a study published in 2008, photo and ion alarms with hush buttons were distributed. After 9 months, 20% of the ionization vs. 5% of the photoelectric were disabled. As a consequence, the authors concluded, “photoelectric alarms may be preferred when a single unit is selected by consumers or safety campaign ….” Even some manufacturers have admitted this, “How to minimise nuisance alarms  - Never install ionization smoke alarms in areas where cooking fumes, open fires and products of combustion are present. Where these conditions occur and a smoke alarm must be installed, a photoelectric alarm is the best option.” (http://www.kidde.com.au/utcfs/kid/How+Smoke+Alarms+Work.html
    It appears that the utilization of photoelectric technology is the preferred solution to nuisance alarms. Even when ion alarms have a “hush button’ they are still disabled.  Of course the results should be even better when photo technology is uses along with ten year batteries, hard-wiring, and “hush buttons.” 
    Combining “hush buttons”, ten-year batteries, and hard-wiring of alarms along with the IAFF recommendation for photo technology, should greatly reduce the disabled alarm problem saving hundreds of people each year.

    5th Item to Consider – Should we be advocating dual alarms?
    • I know that both ion and photo are sold with 10 year batteries. I am not aware of any manufacturer selling a dual with a ten-year battery.
    • I know that combination CO/Smoke Alarms are sold with CO/Ion or CO/Photo. Is there a Dual Smoke Alarm/CO?
    • Why require dual, or allow ionization, alarms in sprinkled occupancies when the only type of fire that can kill someone is a smoldering fire? (See attachment.)
    • Wireless "linked' alarms have tremendous potential to bring existing homes up to new code requirements without extensive wiring. I do not think any manufacturer makes a wireless dual.
    As a consequence, if we require dual technology we would deny to consumer the option of buying smoke alarms with ten-year batteries, wireless technology, or built in CO technology. Is it worth it? In my opinion, NO.
    Potential Life Saving Effect of Different Options Compared to Current Policy

    Non-intimate Flaming
    Intimate or Non-intimate Smoldering
    Reduced Nuisance alarms
    Total Benefit
    Allow All technologies
    (Practically speaking this means 95% ion.)
    All Photo
    (This is the option I have chosen for my family.)
    All Combination
    Maybe 5%
    Assumptions (Based on my analysis of Mass fires from 2004 – 2006)
    1.      In my analysis of Mass fires (available at the Mass fire marshal’s website) fast flaming fires (were the victim isn’t intimate or it wasn’t an arson fire) appear to account for less than 5%.) No wonder researchers have stated, “The advantage of ionization smoke detectors during flaming fires is only about a 15-20 second earlier warning. This margin will only be decisive for the loss of human life in extraordinary circumstances.” (Meland, Oysten, and Lonuik, Lars, "Detection of Smoke - Full Scale Tests with Flaming and Smouldering Fires, "Fire Safety Science," - Proceedings of the Third International Symposium, July, 1991,)
    2.      The use of photo technology, as opposed to ion or dual technology, that uses ion technology, appears to reduce disablement by 50-75%.
    I would like to quote from the Australian Fire Authorities who after reviewing my research decided that “6 Smoke alarms fitted with dual photo-electric/ionization detection are available. Householders may choose to install such alarms in lieu of photoelectric alarms. However research indicates they are more costly and prone to more false alarms than photo and the benefit is marginal.”
    The IAFF is correct in favoring photoelectric technology.

    Page Last Updated: May 13, 2018 (10:50:56)
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