They look simple, but the humble smoke detector can save lives. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

They look simple, but the humble smoke detector can save lives. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Smoke detectors can be the difference between life and death

When we’re asleep we don’t smell things, so smoke detectors can be a vital safety feature

Having smoke detectors installed in your home can be the difference between life and death.

It’s something that Ashcroft’s interim fire chief, Josh White, knows all too well from his more than 20 years’ experience as a firefighter. He says that the importance of having smoke detectors was brought home once again this past summer, in two separate fires in Ashcroft.

“Having a smoke detector probably saved the life of a person in Ashcroft this year,” he says. The Ashcroft Volunteer Fire Department attended a house fire that occurred very early in the morning, and White says that the smoke detector went off and alerted the resident in time.

“He got out of the house and kept the fire at bay until the fire department showed up.” However, he adds that because the fire happened so early, “Had this person not had a smoke detector the outcome could have been quite different.”

He points to another Ashcroft fire this past summer that took place a bit later in the morning, so the resident was not sleeping. However, there was no smoke detector in the building.

“Had he been sleeping, it could have been different, without a smoke detector to alert someone. He was awake, and smelled smoke, but when we’re asleep we don’t smell things.

“And the property damage could also have been reduced if a smoke detector had been in place, because the resident might have been able to extinguish the fire himself. In the middle of the night, when you’re asleep and the smoke detector goes off, you can get up and potentially challenge that fire if it’s in a small enough space.”

The Ashcroft fire department has long appreciated the importance of smoke detectors, which is why members of the department are available to install smoke detectors or carbon monoxide monitors at no charge for local residents. White says anyone who would like a detector or monitor installed can call the department’s non-emergency number at (250) 453-2233 and leave a message.

He adds that people looking to install smoke detectors should consider two per floor, with one outside the bedroom area and one near the kitchen (but not inside it, in order to cut down on the number of false alarms). Since the laundry room can be a source of ignition, one should go there, with another one near the furnace.

Laundry rooms as a source of fire can be a surprise to some people, says White, noting that it’s important to clean the lint trap on your dryer. He adds that people also don’t clean the line going from the dryer to the outside vent, which can fill with material and ignite.

If your smoke detectors operate on batteries, they should be changed once a year. Pick a consistent date, such as when the clocks change, so you don’t forget.

Colder weather is coming, meaning more demand on electrical systems and more sources of ignition, such as plugging in vehicles. Space heaters can also be a hazard. “They’re a big one,” says White. “It’s not so much the heater itself as what’s around the heater, especially if you get called away and leave it on. The radiant heat can ignite things that are nearby. Some modern ones do have safeties built into them, like automatic shut-offs, but there are a lot of old ones out there.

“The placement of items around heaters is important, and don’t leave it running if you’re not there.”

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