San Mateo County Fire Chiefs

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Smoke Alarms (Detectors)

Over 70% of fire deaths occur in residential occupancies, specifically in homes and apartments. Most of these deaths are not from heat or flames, but from smoke and toxic fumes. However, homes with working smoke alarms can reduce the chance of injuries or deaths to its occupants. This small unit can give you early warning of a fire in your home and allow you enough time to escape. So, follow these simple steps for purchasing, locating and maintaining smoke alarms within your home to help protect the ones you love.

  • Ionization smoke alarms contain a small amount of radioactivity that conducts electricity. Electric current flows continuously between two electrodes in the alarm. When smoke particles enter, they disturb the flow, causing the alarm to go off. 
  • Photoelectric smoke alarms contain a beam of light and a photocell within the alarm. When the smoke enters, it deflects the beam, causing it to strike the photocell and set off the alarm.

The difference between the two types of alarms is generally not critical, since the response times for each are similar. Either type will work effectively in your home. Locating smoke alarms within your home is key to making sure they will work properly in a fire. You should have a alarm inside each bedroom, centrally located in the bedroom, in the hallway close to each sleeping area, and on each floor of the home. When mounting the alarm on the ceiling, do not place close to the corners or walls. When mounting on the wall, install the alarm between 4 - 12 inches from the corner where the wall meets the ceiling. Click here to find out where to install your smoke alarms.

Test each smoke alarm at least once a month by pressing the test button or by using a smoking incense stick placed near the alarm. Replace the battery in each alarm every 6 months. If an alarm emits small short beeps, the battery may be low so replace the battery immediately. Dust or vacuum each detector periodically to ensure that dust or insects don't obstruct the alarm's openings.

Click here to find out how smoke alarms work!

Family Saved by Smoke Alarm in Foster City