An Alarming Failure: What the Experts Say - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

An Alarming Failure: What the Experts Say

What type of smoke detector should you have? Here's what the experts say:

The Indiana State Fire Marshal announced in September 2007 that his office was now recommending "dual sensor smoke alarms" -- a combination of photoelectric and ionization. "Because the synthetic materials we commonly use in the home smolder longer before breaking into flames, it is wise to use smoke alarms that will alert you as early as possible of either type of fire," he wrote.

In August 2007, the International Association of Fire Chiefs concluded that: "Since it cannot be predicted what type of fire will start in a home, it is important that both smoldering and flaming fires be detected as quickly as possible. The best protection is to have both types of smoke alarms installed, or install dual sensing technology smoke alarms that incorporate both ionization/photoelectric sensors."

The Phoenix Fire Department, in April 2007, began recommending dual-sensor smoke detectors. "You can never tell which fire you're going to have," Rhonda Baxter, a fire-prevention specialist with the Phoenix Fire Department, told the Arizona Republic.

In June 2006, the Australasian Fire Authorities Council -- an advisory group of fire experts in Australia and New Zealand -- recommended in June 2006 that "all residential accommodation be fitted with photoelectric smoke alarms," instead of ionization detectors. The Council noted that another alternative would be dual ionization/photoelectric detectors, but "research indicates that they are more costly and prone to more false alarms than photoelectric alarms and the benefits are marginal."

In August 2007, the National Institute of Standards and Technology -- a research arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce -- told the Boston City Council that: "The research conducted by NIST staff leads to the conclusion that both ionization and photoelectric alarms provide enough time to save lives for most of the population under many fire scenarios; however, ionization may not always alarm even when a room is filled with smoke from a smoldering fire, exposing the most sensitive populations with mobility limitations to an undetermined risk."

Also, the federal government's Public/Private Fire Safety Council recommended new standards for smoke detectors. "Current photoelectric-mode smoke alarms appear to provide a significant reduction in the frequency of nuisance alarms compared to current ionization-mode smoke alarms.... Photoelectric-mode smoke alarms will provide an improvement in speed of detection of fires in their smoldering phase."

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