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The statistics are alarming. Each year across the U.S., more than 4,000 Americans die and 20,000 are injured in fires. Almost two-thirds of home fire deaths result from fires where there are no smoke alarms or nonworking smoke alarms. Most home fires occur when families are asleep. And, fires are fast – in less than 30 seconds, a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire. 

All of these facts add up to one thing: Time is your family’s enemy if there’s a fire in your home, so it’s important to have as much warning as possible for everyone to get out safely – using an escape plan that everyone has practiced. 

That’s why it’s so important to have working smoke alarms in your home. Since the batteries last about a year, make it a habit to change them every fall, when you turn back your clocks. (The only exception is for smoke alarms that contain “lifetime” or special long-lasting batteries.) 

Here are some other things to keep in mind about smoke alarms: 

  • Test each smoke alarm monthly by pushing the unit’s test button. If there’s no chirp or warning, try changing the battery; if that doesn’t work, buy a new alarm. 
  • When smoke alarms fail to operate, it’s usually because batteries are missing, disconnected or dead. Almost one-quarter of smoke alarm failures are due to dead batteries. 
  • Gently vacuum the exterior of all smoke alarms monthly – or follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning them. 
  • The sensors in smoke alarms may not work correctly after 7 to 10 years, so replace the alarms before they fail – based on the manufacturers’ recommendations. 

If you only have one type of smoke and fire alarm in your home, your family may not be well-protected against fires. In fact, a very small percentage of major residential fires are smoldering fires – the type that trigger photoelectric smoke detectors first. The majority of home fires are flaming fires – which set off ionization smoke detectors first. The best solution – one that’s been required in new construction and for replacement in existing homes by Iowa law since April 1, 2010 – is to install dual-sensor alarms that use both technologies. 

If the smoke alarms in your home meet all the manufacturer’s recommendations, you’re not required to immediately replace them with dualsensor  detectors. However, when you have a detector that needs to bereplaced, you must install a dualsensor unit. For more information, go to the State Fire Marshal Division website at or call 515-725-6145.

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