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Your Bank > Education and Advice > CNB University

Smoke Alarms, a Matter of Life and Death

 Early in the morning of September 9, 2006, a house fire was reported in Irondequoit. From the time the fire whistle blew at 3:46 AM to the time the Point Pleasant Fire Department responded, nine minutes had passed. The fire was brought under control within approximately thirty minutes. A woman and her three year old granddaughter were both rescued from the blaze but both suffered severe burns and extreme respiratory distress. I tell this story for a few reasons. The woman who was rescued is Linda Foti, a co-worker of mine and I think there is a message in this tragedy. I think sometimes we take things for granted. For example, how often have you said goodbye to your co-workers on Friday and simply assumed you’d all see one another on Monday morning? I had no idea when Linda walked into my office to let me know she was heading to one of her bank branch offices like she did almost every Friday afternoon that I might not see her again for a very long time. And I think we don’t give enough credit to our volunteer firefighters who respond to life and death emergencies, day in and day out and at all hours of the day and night. Imagine you’re awoken at 3:46 AM to respond to a house fire where precious lives are at stake - and you’re on the scene within nine minutes. Because of their fast response and extensive fire training, Linda and her granddaughter are alive today, and for that, we are all grateful. But I also think we take something very simple for granted; smoke alarms. Its law that every home purchased must have working smoke alarms at the time of closing, yet often times they’re not working when they’re needed the most.

In the 1960's, the average American had never heard of a smoke alarm but by 1995, roughly 93 percent of all American homes, single and multifamily, apartments, nursing homes and dormitories were equipped with alarms. By the mid 1980's, smoke alarm laws, requiring that alarms be placed in all new and existing residences existed in 38 states and thousands of municipalities nationwide. Smoke alarm requirements have been adopted by all model building code organizations.

Fire agencies across the country have played a huge role in educating the public on the benefits of smoke alarms. In the early 1970's, the cost of protecting a three bedroom home with professionally installed alarms was approximately $l000. Today the cost of owner-installed alarms in the same house has come down to less than $50 for the entire home. The impact of smoke alarms on fire safety is dramatic and can be simply stated. When fire breaks out, the smoke alarm, functioning as an early warning system, reduces the risk of dying by nearly 50 percent. In the event of a fire, properly installed and maintained smoke alarms will provide an early warning signal to your household. This alarm could save your own life and those of your family by providing the chance to escape.

  1. Smoke alarms should be installed on every level of your home, including the basement. Many fatal fires begin late at night or in the early morning. For extra safety, you should install smoke alarms both inside and outside the sleeping area. Smoke alarms are very easy to take care of. There are two steps to remember.
  2. Simply replace the batteries at least once a year. Pick a holiday or your birthday and replace the batteries each year on that day. Some smoke alarms come with ten-year batteries which are designed to be replaced as a whole unit. If your smoke alarm starts making a chirping noise, replace the batteries and reset it.
    Keep them clean. Dust can interfere with their operation, so vacuum over and around your smoke alarm regularly.


If your smoke alarm goes off while you are cooking, then it's doing its job. Don’t disable it because you may not remember to put the batteries back in the alarm after cooking. Instead, simply clear the air by waving a towel near the alarm, leaving the batteries in place. The alarm may have to be moved to a new location.