2012-03-30 / In the Know

Time to change household batteries

By B. Michael Thurlow
Special contributor

It’s that time of year again. We recently went through the semi-annual process of adjusting our clocks to Daylight Saving Time.

This is the perfect reminder to replace the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

Smoke detectors have been the single most effective tool in reducing fire deaths over the past few decades, but to function they have to be maintained, including fresh batteries.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that there are 386,300 residential fires in the United States each year, resulting in 2,400 deaths between 2006 and 2008. Two-thirds of the fire deaths occur in homes where there are no smoke detectors or where the detectors were not working at the time of the fire.

That is why it is critically important to replace the batteries at least once a year and to test your alarms every month to make sure they work properly. Smoke detectors should be installed on every level of your home, including the basement.

It is also important to have one located inside each bedroom, as well as one outside the bedrooms.

One of the other things to remember is that the sensors in smoke detectors are only good for about 10 years. If your detectors are older than that, seriously consider replacing them with a new model.

The commission also estimates there are an average of 183 deaths per year from unintentional, non fire related carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is called the invisible killer because it is a colorless, odorless and poisonous gas. Because of this most people don’t know they are gradually being poisoned.

The initial symptoms of low to moderate carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include: headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, and dizziness.

High level carbon monoxide poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including: mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness and, ultimately, death.

Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete burning of fuel in various products including furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves, portable generators, automobiles and charcoal grills.

That is why it is also very important to make sure furnaces are serviced at least annually.

Never run a portable gasoline or propane engine, automobile or grill inside your home or a garage. They should be operated outside and away from any open windows to provide plenty of ventilation and assure the exhaust gases (which include carbon monoxide) won’t enter your home.

Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed on every level of your home, including outside the bedrooms.

If you have any questions about this article or any fire department issue, please don’t hesitate to contact me at mthurl@ci.scarborough.me.us or 730-4201.

B. Michael Thurlow is fire chief for Scarborough.

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