Smoke detectors inoperative in half of homes with them

April 17, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

Howard fire officials say about 80 percent of homes in the county have smoke detectors. The problem is, half of them don't work properly.

The statistic suggests complacency on the part of some residents, who think that a fire will never engulf their homes, fire officials say.

"It's like with everything else," said Sgt. Dennis Beard, the county's fire education specialist. "People don't think they're going to get robbed, or raped or have a fire, and that it'll happen to somebody else. We have to face reality."

The county's Bureau of Fire Prevention provides free smoke detectors to senior citizens, low-income residents and hearing-impaired people, handing out about 100 detectors each year for the last five years.

Money from individual donors and community service groups pays for the devices.

The county Health Department has bought 200 detectors for the Fire and Rescue Services Department in the last 18 months.

Battery manufacturers donated 9-volt batteries used by fire workers to equip home detectors.

"Now is good a time as any to make sure they are working," Sergeant Beard said. "What we want to keep from happening is a major disaster like in Baltimore."

Sergeant Beard was referring to the Feb. 26 fire in West Baltimore that killed seven children and two adults. A candle ignited the rowhouse blaze, and no smoke detector was in the home.

Smoke detectors should be tested monthly. Most of the devices are equipped with a test button, which indicates whether they are operational.

Sergeant Beard said that elderly people who live alone sometimes cannot check their own detectors, and some some people may not understand how to test the devices.

"Every residence should have one," Sergeant Beard said. "No question. It's the best early-warning device you can have in your home."

Each year, fire and rescue teams respond to about 5,500 reports of fire in the county. In 30 percent of those fires, homes were without smoke detectors, officials say.

Too often, fire officials say, smoke detectors are often considered trivial, superseded by other household needs.

Detectors set off by cooking are deactivated, malfunctioning systems are sometimes ripped from the ceiling in frustration, and children may take batteries from the devices to use in their toys or radios.

Smoke detectors may be purchased from hardware or department stores. Prices range from $10 for simple battery-operated models to $50 for more sophisticated electrical models, fire officials say.

Residents requesting free smoke detectors should not pick them up, but make an appointment for their local Fire Department to install them.

For more information, call the Bureau of Fire Prevention at 313-6040 during weekdays or any local fire department.

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