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Madison Fire Department
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smoke alarm safety

Image: Smoke Alarm

Smoke Alarms

Smoke alarms provide an early warning of fire, giving you and your family more time to safely evacuate your home.

Often, home fires occur in the darkness of night when residents are fast asleep. One misconception is that a person will awake from the smell of smoke. This is WRONG...Smoke is a silent killer! Smoke contains many deadly gases, such as carbon monoxide, that will actually put a person into an even deeper state of sleep, causing a person never to wake up. A smoke alarm is your first line of defense to get out alive.

Peter’s Story

The City of Madison Common Council unanimously passed a new smoke alarm ordinance in March 2009. The ordinance was named in memory of Peter Talen. Peter was 23 when he died in a fire at 123 North Bedford on November 18, 2007. There was only one working smoke alarm in the two-story house. He was one of 5 people to die in fires in Madison that year.

Peter had been a student at UW-La Crosse. He was visiting his brother, a UW-Madison student, for the weekend.

Peter’s family and friends have worked tirelessly to advocate for fire safety and increase public awareness of the importance of working smoke alarms.

Peter’s Story is part of their effort to remember Peter, and reach out to young people with lessons learned from their experience.

The documentary was written and directed by Jim Jorstad, and produced by Jorstad's unit, Academic Technology Services. Additional videos can be seen on the YouTube Channel The Learning Space, jjorstad13.

To view the Peter's Story video, download Adobe FlashPlayer.

Choosing a smoke alarm

  • Smoke alarms can be purchased at the majority of hardware and variety department stores. Be sure that the alarms you buy carry the label of an independent testing laboratory.
  • Smoke alarms in the City of Madison must have a ten year lithium battery with a tamper resistant battery compartment or be hardwired directly to your homes electrical system with a battery backup. Either type is effective as long as they are installed and maintained properly (follow the manufacturer's directions).
  • Some smoke alarms detect smoke using an ionization sensor while others use a photoelectric sensor. Again, both types are effective as long as they are installed and maintained properly (follow the manufacturer's directions).
  • Specialty alarms with emergency lights also exist for the hearing impaired.

How many and where to install?

The total number of smoke alarms and where they are installed depends on the home. Follow these guidelines for determining the number of smoke alarms and where to install them.
  • By August 15, 2010 all residential buildings within the City of Madison must have smoke alarms installed in the following areas:
    - In each bedroom
    - In each sleeping area
    - Within six feet of each door leading to a bedroom or sleeping area of each unit
    - On each floor of the building
  • Smoke alarms are not recommended for kitchens, bathrooms, or garages where cooking fumes, steam, or exhaust fumes could result in false alarms.
  • Do not install an alarm in an attic or other unheated spaces where humidity and temperature changes could affect the alarm's operation.
  • If your alarm regularly goes off due to normal cooking in the kitchen, do not attempt to remove the battery. Physically move and reinstall the smoke alarm in a location where the alarm will not continually go off while you are cooking.
  • Install smoke alarms following the manufacturer's directions. Most battery operated smoke alarms can be easily installed using a drill, screws, and screwdriver. Alarms hard-wired to the homes electrical system should be installed by a professional. Never install an alarm to a circuit that can be turned off from a wall switch.
  • Mount alarms high on a wall or on the ceiling. Avoid dead air spaces. Wall-mounted alarms should be installed so that they are 4 to 12 inches from the ceiling. A ceiling-mounted alarm should be attached at least 4 inches from the nearest wall.

To view the Smoke Alarm Awareness video, download Adobe FlashPlayer.

Maintenance & Batteries

  • Only a functioning smoke alarm can protect you and your family.
  • Never disable an alarm by "borrowing" its battery for another use.
  • Test your smoke alarms monthly
  • Following the manufacturer´s instructions
  • Clean your smoke alarms using a dust brush or rag.
  • Never paint a smoke alarm.
  • Replace smoke alarms that are more than 10 years old.