Fire marshal falls short of mandating smoke alarm type

August 19, 2011 7:40:33 PM PDT
Recommendations released on Friday by the state fire marshal fall short of endorsing new smoke alarms that many believe could save lives in California.

The new report acknowledges the advantage of new alarms, but fails to recommend mandating them, so 7 On Your Side asked why.

"So the photoelectric and the dual-sensor photo ion alarm will go off sooner. So now we have the photo ion alarm starting right now," said Gordon Simpkinson of the Palo Alto Fire Department.

A demonstration conducted by the Palo Alto Fire Department for 7 On Your Side showed how photoelectric alarms can save valuable minutes. In this experiment, the photoelectric alarm alerts homeowners of a slow, smoldering fire less than two minutes after smoke begins to form.

The more common ionization alarms used in 90 percent of homes took more than 10 minutes to sound the alarm. State fire marshal Tonya Hoover wasn't available on Friday for comment, but a spokesperson told us "The State Fire Marshal does not endorse one technology over another."

Simpkinson sits on the state's smoke alarm task force and supports the use of photoelectric alarms over ionization. He believes if the recommendations are adopted, ionization alarms would eventually be phased out.

"Right now the primary reason why ionization alarms are selected by consumers is they're less expensive, so one of the things that will happen is that price differential will start to go away," said Simpkinson.

The recommendations include requiring that ionization alarms be placed no less than 20 feet away from cooking appliances. That's because ionization alarms are prone to false alarms, leading people to pull out batteries.

The recommendations call for clear instructions on packaging about where the alarms should be placed. Simpkonson thinks those requirements would drive consumers to photoelectric alarms, thus driving down the price as the demand increases.

"Just the fact we made some very significant recommendations to me represents a solid step forward for fire safety in California," said Simpkinson.

The state fire marshal is also recommending that smoke alarms be replaced every 10 years and that 10-year batteries be used. We attempted to reach an industry trade group for comment, but the National Electrical Manufacturers Association did not return our call.


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