This time, it happened in Phoenix, Ariz., in early March of this year. Another smoke alarm and another life saved. We have been telling everyone who will listen about the importance of having working smoke alarms in the home, and here is an example of how it made a life-and-death difference.
A 66-year-old Phoenix woman was asleep in her home when the loud warning noise of her smoke alarm awakened her at about 1:30 a.m. The woman, who lives alone, woke to find smoke and fire surrounding her and actually saw flames on the bed in which she was sleeping. She took fast and appropriate action and got out of her home quickly and is alive today because of it.
While she did manage to escape, it was an extremely close call. The woman suffered from fire-singed hair and burns to both her hands. The woman did not realize that she was burned at first, due to the excited state she was in by narrowly escaping death. It wasn't until a few minutes passed before she assessed her condition and found the burns to her hands. Based on the damage to the home, fire department spokespersons estimated that she was just minutes away from losing her life.
This fire could have taken a much different course. The presence of smoke alarms makes a difference, but only if the smoke alarms are in good, working condition. To make sure your smoke alarms are operational, test them once a month and change the batteries once a year. If your smoke alarm is more than 10 years old, it should be removed and replaced with a new unit. The year of manufacture must be printed on the unit in large numbers. If you don't see the date, then replace it with a new one because it is more than 10 years old. The year the date law went into effect was 2000.
The smoke alarm will hopefully get your attention and/or wake you up. That is part of the battle. The rest is to make sure you take appropriate action. This means escape, and you must know how to get out of your house through every exit and emergency escape, like windows. You should plan to make your way out through smoke, which is hard to see through and difficult to breathe. There is no time for wasted movements. Planning for this type of emergency in advance allows you to discuss who is leaving, who is going to the kids' rooms to get them and where the family meeting place will be, no matter which way you use to get out of the house.
Here is yet another example of a life saved due to the activation of a smoke alarm. Do you have smoke alarms in your home? Do you have at least one on every level in the home? Have you tested them recently, and are they under 10 years old? If you answered yes to the above questions, you have armed yourself with the best chances of survival in the event of an unwanted fire.
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.