Better smoke alarms required in new year

and Contact ReporterThe Aegis

By New Year’s Day on Monday, Harford County residents should have replaced their battery-operated smoke detectors with devices that have sealed-in, long-lasting batteries, in accordance with a state law enacted several years ago.

“The old-style smoke alarms will eventually be no longer sold,” Rich Gardiner, a spokesperson for the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association, explained in an emailed statement Wednesday.

Jan. 1, 2018 is the deadline to be in compliance with Maryland’s smoke detector law that took effect July 1, 2013 and requires upgraded detectors in new and existing dwellings, according to Gardiner.

He wrote that “no one will be randomly checking,” and there is no penalty if a homeowner is not in compliance; however, sealed-battery detectors do provide an extra layer of safety for residents.

“The battery being sealed takes away the chances of someone borrowing the battery to use somewhere else or taking it out when cooking,” Gardiner explained. “Often times, even with the best of intentions, the battery doesn't get replaced and in some cases what has happened next is tragic.”

The sealed-in battery smoke detectors include a “silence/hush” feature, according to Gardiner. That button can be used if smoke from cooking sets the alarm off, according to the website of Kidde, a manufacturer of fire safety devices.

Smoke alarms must be replaced when they are 10 years old, which is required by state law, Gardiner said. Residents should look on the bottom of the detector for the date it was manufactured.

“If you can’t find a date, the alarm is most likely older than 10 years and should be replaced,” Gardiner stated.

He encouraged people who install new devices to record the installation date, writing it on the bottom or side of the detector in permanent market as a notice to future occupants.

Fire safety officials recommend residents install smoke detectors throughout their dwellings, inside and outside bedrooms and on each story, including basements, Gardiner said.

The sealed-battery detectors, which include a 10-year lithium battery, are slightly more expensive than a traditional detector with a 9-volt battery.

One Kidde 10-year “Worry Free” detector costs $36.97 at Home Depot, compared to $11.97 for a 9-volt battery-powered Kidde smoke detector, according to Home Depot’s website.

The 10-year detectors can be purchased in bundles of three ($49.97) and four ($79.88), according to Home Depot’s website.

Harford residents can request smoke detectors from their local fire company, according to Gardiner.

“It is up to each individual fire department how they want to handle the dissemination if they choose to do so,” he said.

If they can’t get help from a local fire company, people can contact Ron Sollod, chairman of the county’s fire prevention committee, at 12035@jmvfc.org, and he will provide further assistance, according to Gardiner.

“These devices are a bit more expensive than we are used to paying, but the cost savings from not having to purchase batteries over a 10-year period reflects the savings,” he wrote. “But the real saving is that of a life.”

The Maryland Smoke Alarm Law ultimately affects more than 800,000 Maryland homes with battery-only operated smoke alarms.

According to a Maryland Office of the State Fire Marshal news release, two-thirds of all national home fire deaths occur in homes with either no smoke alarm or no working smoke alarm, mainly because of missing or disconnected batteries.

By sealing the battery inside the alarm, the unit becomes tamper-resistant and removes the burden from consumers to remember to change batteries, which, in turn, will save lives.

These sealed-in, long-life battery smoke alarms provide continuous protection for a decade, and fire experts with the National Fire Protection Association and National Association of State Fire Marshals recommend their use.

“We encourage people to come up to compliance,” Senior Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver Alkire said. “No one will be knocking on your door to see if you have the smoke alarms, but it’s a good idea to make the upgrade. Code enforcement officials and fire safety inspectors will enforce the law for remodeled or newly built homes.”

The NASFM said it hopes publicizing the requirement will result in the widespread replacement of older nonfunctioning or unreliable smoke alarms.

Alkire said it is critical to understand these devices are appropriate only where battery-only operated smoke alarms exist or in locations where there are no smoke alarms.

He said it is never acceptable to remove required wired-in smoke alarms and replace them with any type of battery-only operated device. A 110-volt electrically powered smoke alarm may only be replaced with a new 110-volt unit with a battery backup, he said.

Smoke alarms should be placed on every level of the home and outside the sleeping areas, such as the hallway accessing the bedrooms, according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office news release. It is also recommended to place them inside each bedroom to allow sound sleepers to be alerted if smoke begins to enter the room.

Keep bedroom doors closed when sleeping to help ensure smoke, toxic gases and flames can't easily enter the bedroom, allowing you more time to escape.

“The importance of ensuring the proper maintenance and use of smoke alarms is paramount,” State Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci said in a prepared statement. “The materials used in products we keep in our homes tend to burn much more readily, thus giving us a very limited window of time to escape the effects of fire. These early warning devices can be the difference between life or death in an incident of an uncontrolled fire inside our homes.”

This story has been updated to reflect new information where Harford County residents can get assistance for installing new smoke alarms.

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