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Now is a good time to check how your smoke detectors are working
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The week of Oct. 3-9 is "National Fire Prevention Week," and the theme for this year is "Smoke Alarms: A Sound You Can Live With!" Many homes in our region already have at least one smoke alarm installed in them because so much progress has been made this past decade through public education and awareness. But now it is time to ensure that the alarms are properly maintained and upgraded to reflect the latest technology. Smoke alarms are real lifesaving devices. For example, just days ago a sleeping Elk Grove resident was awakened by a smoke alarm when a fire started in his apartment. The fire was building fast, but because of the alarm, firefighters were able to knock down the blaze in just minutes and the resident escaped without serious injuries. Stories like this happen all the time, thanks to smoke alarms.

Basic smoke alarms are inexpensive, ranging in price from $11 to $25. Sophisticated alarms that incorporate both the smoke and carbon monoxide detection are more expensive. Smoke detectors should be installed at least one foot away from where the ceiling and wall meet in bedrooms, hallways near bedrooms, in laundry rooms, attics, garages and at the top of stairways. If you choose to install carbon monoxide alarms, they should be placed in similar areas: at least one near the sleeping area and others throughout your home at least 15 feet from heating or cooking appliances and away from very humid areas like bathrooms.

If your alarms are more than a few years old, it is worth considering replacing them. Newer models are more effective because of improved technology and their batteries tend to last longer. Battery replacement is a "must," to be done annually at least.

The timing of National Fire Prevention week is also good because this is the time of year when the weather cools down and people start using various heating devices to warm their homes. Fireplaces need to be cleaned to remove accumulated debris and any creosote build-up. Electric heaters should be cleared of dust and spider webs, and it is important to make sure all electric cords are in good condition. These cords can get frayed from use and age, and rodents can also chew on them if they have been stored in a basement, garage or outdoor shed.

We advise against the use of kerosene heaters inside homes because of the fire hazard associated with the fuel itself, the potential for oxygen depletion and the accumulation of carbon monoxide. Gas furnaces should be thoroughly inspected by a competent source prior to use. These furnaces often accumulate dust and debris and some of their components and safety devices are subject to failure.

Now that the importance of proper use and maintenance of heating devices has been emphasized, we have to remember that all heaters are subject to hazardous failures, and that is exactly why smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are important to have installed where people live and sleep.

For more information, contact your local fire department, or go online to visit the National Fire Protection Association at