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Special report: Worried over smoke alarms?

By Matt McDonald
Published On: May 02 2013 11:56:57 PM CDT

NewsChannel 21's Matt McDonald looks at what fire experts say about a report that took issue with whether some smoke detectors will go off in time to save you or your family.

BEND, Ore. -

A special report on the Today Show called into question if some smoke alarms really work.  

After that story aired, the International Association of Fire Chiefs called it sensationalized and in some ways misleading.

 In the Today Show's Rossen Report, they put ionization smoke detectors, used in 90 percent of American homes, to the test.  In their scenario, the alarms took 36 minutes to go off.

But here's what they didn't tell you.

"Ionization is good for a fast-moving, fast-burning fire.  A photoelectric smoke alarm is good for a slow, smoldering type of fire," said Redmond Fire Marshal Traci Cooper.

That's right: The type of smoke detector, blasted in the Rossen Report, is actually your best bet in a fast-moving fire.  Smoke detectors with both technologies built-in cost about $23.  

Bottom line: "Smoke alarms, whether they are photoelectric or ionization both work," Cooper said. "They do the early warning to get you out, and they increase your chances of surviving a fire by 50 percent.”

A second report called into question kids sleeping through alarms.

"They are simply not small adults, they are different biologically," a doctor said on that Today Show report. "It would astound you at how loud the sounds can get -- and the children continue to sleep through them.”

That is true, but it's nothing new to fire officials.

“You may only have three minutes max to get to those children and get them out,” Cooper said.

It's not limited to kids, by the way -- adults sleep through alarms, too.

“When you do find someone in a fire, your training takes over,” said Bend fire Capt. Mike Baxter, who has literally carried someone out of a burning building.

"You can't see anything." Baxter said. "I would liken it to swimming in very murky water with a swim mask on.  You just can't see past the glass.”

That's why firefighters say it takes two things to keep your family safe.

“You've got to have that fire escape plan.  Don't rely just on the smoke alarms -- they may wake you up, but have the plan on how you're going to get everybody out,” Cooper said.

For information on building a fire escape plan for your house and how to practice with your family, visit
http://www.usfa.fema.gov/campaigns/smokealarms/escapeplans/

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