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The tragic fire that claimed the lives of two Sykesville residents on Nov. 7 underscores the need for everyone to make sure they have working smoke detectors on all levels of their home.

A man and a woman were found dead after the historic, state-owned home caught fire in the 900 block of Raincliffe Road, according to the Office of the State Fire Marshal. Investigators from the fire marshal’s office did not find smoke alarms in the ruins of the home, although a neighbor and a family member have said they thought it likely the devices were present. Either way, it is critical to understand the importance of smoke detectors in warning occupants of fires and giving them time to escape.

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The Office of the State Fire Marshal has previously said that about two-thirds of all home fire deaths occur in homes where a smoke alarm either isn’t present or isn’t working. Typically, if a smoke alarm isn’t working, it’s because it was disconnected or missing batteries. Maryland law requires replacement of any battery-only operated smoke alarm that is more than 10 years old with a unit powered by a 10-year sealed-in battery. Smoke alarms should be placed on every level of the home and outside sleeping areas, such as a hallway leading to bedrooms. It is also recommended to place them inside each bedroom to allow sound sleepers to be alerted if smoke begins to enter the room.

Research at the University of Maryland, College Park has shown that installing smoke detectors can nearly double the chance of surviving a fire. The death rate was 0.62 per 100 reported fires in one- and two-family dwellings with smoke alarms in the U.S. between 2003 and 2006, according to James Milke, a University of Maryland professor and chair of its department of fire protection engineering. In the same type of homes without smoke alarms, the death rate was 1.27 per 100 fires, Milke told us. The death rate was 0.33 for apartments with smoke alarms and 0.56 for apartments without them, according to Milke, who helped author a 2010 report on the performance of smoke detectors and sprinklers in residential and health-care settings.

“I think smoke detectors do a tremendous amount of good, for sure," Milke told us. "And for a fairly small investment, getting that much of a difference in fatality rate would seem to be, it’d be about one of the best investments you could ever make.”

Very true. We strongly urge everyone to check theirs as soon as possible, particularly with Thanksgiving coming up. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Thanksgiving Day is the peak day all year for home-cooking fires. NFPA data shows that cooking is the leading cause of home fires. One out of three home fires begins in the kitchen — more than any other place in the home.

In the most recent data available on the NFPA website, there were 3,645 fire deaths in 2017. On average, seven people died in a fire in a home per day from 2012 through 2016. Across Maryland, since 2000, anywhere from 54 to 94 Marylanders have died in fires each year, according to fire marshal statistics. In Carroll County, three people perished in fires during 2018 and two died in fires in 2017 and 2016, according to statistics from the Office of the State Fire Marshal. Over the past decade, fire has now claimed the lives of at least 17 Carroll countians.

The National Fire Prevention Week theme in 2018 was “Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware. Fire can happen anywhere.” But the “listen” part of that equation, referring to hearing and heeding the warning sounds emitted from smoke detectors, can only happen if the devices are installed and in working order.

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