Current smoke alarms pass life-saving tests

A report from the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today stated that both types of commercially available home smoke alarms (also called smoke "detectors") consistently provide people enough time to escape most residential fires. It stressed the need for immediate response to an activated alarm and showed that individuals caught in a flaming fire (as opposed to a smoldering fire) have an average of three minutes from an alarm's first warning to escape.

"The three-minute escape window for flaming fires differs from the 17 minutes NIST recorded in its seminal smoke alarm tests in the 1970s," said Richard Bukowski, the NIST researcher who conducted both studies. "It confirms what fire scientists have recognized for some time: fires today seem to burn faster and kill quicker because the contents of modern homes (such as furnishings) can burn faster and more intensely."

"Our new research, however, proves that even with a three-minute warning, smoke alarms still offer enough time to save your life," Bukowski stressed. "When the alarm sounds, it is important that everyone just get out of the house."

Smoke alarms are of two types--ionization and photoelectric.* Some combination models are sold.

According to the two-year NIST home smoke alarm performance study, ionization smoke alarms respond faster to flaming fires, while photoelectric smoke alarms respond quicker to smoldering fires. The report concluded that, despite these differences, the placement of either alarm type on every level of the house provided the necessary escape time for the different types of fires examined. The researchers determined the necessary escape times by considering the time that the alarms sounded in various locations and the development of untenable (unsurvivable) conditions.

The tests also showed how closed bedroom doors and proper placement of smoke alarms affect one's chances of survival. In both cases, the t

Contact: John Blair
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

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