The Risks of Not Using Smoke Alarms

Written by sue williams
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The Risks of Not Using Smoke Alarms
With a working smoke detector, a house fire might not be deadly. (burning house image by ivp from Fotolia.com)

Whether you choose not to use a smoke alarm or have an alarm that doesn't work because the batteries need to be changed, you are doing a great disservice to yourself and anyone who relies on you for safety and well-being. Not using a smoke detector may rob you of crucial moments at the onset of a fire---moments that could mean the difference between life and death.

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Quick Facts

In its Smoke Alarm Fact Sheet, the Fire Safety Council quotes a study done in Ontario, Canada between 1995 and 1997 showing "fewer people die in home fires when a smoke alarm/detector is present and activates." The same study found that "in 85 per cent of the cases where the smoke alarm did not activate, it was due to a dead or missing battery/power source." Secured Home, a U.K.-based resource on home safety and security issues, has an even more devastating condemnation of those who don't use smoke alarms: in a one-year period, "there were 7,310 injuries and 199 deaths resulting from 36,500 accidental home fires. In 80 per cent of the fatal fires there has been found to be no smoke alarm."

Injury or Death

The worst thing that can happen when you don't have a working smoke detector is death. The sole duty of a smoke alarm is to give advanced notice of a potentially deadly fire. With no advance notice, residential fires can cut off all escape routes long before a victim wakes, if he wakes at all. Often, carbon monoxide builds up and the victim dies in his sleep of carbon monoxide poisoning. Even if someone survives a fire, she may do so with significant lung damage due to inhaling smoke; she may also suffer first-, second- or third-degree burns that may leave permanent scars and require months or even years of rehabilitation.

Legal Action

Not having working smoke detectors in a home may lead to court action and a fine ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending upon your state or country. You may also accrue fines for not installing or intentionally disabling your smoke-detecting system, plus victim fees and court costs.

Property Damage and Insurance

If there is a fire and fire alarms and/or smoke detectors are not in working order, the effect on future home insurance prices is extreme. By not having an early warning system, the homeowner becomes a high risk for the insurance company and will face higher premiums. If you don't have property (or renters') insurance, then everything you may have saved by early detection and handling of the fire is quickly gone. If you do have insurance, it will replace your belongings and help to build you a new home, but it cannot replace one-of-a-kind and sentimental items like family heirlooms, pictures and legal documents.

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