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Madison Fire Department
Committed to recruiting and retaining a qualified, diverse, inclusive and safe fire workforce.

A Brief History

As recently as the 1960's, the average U. S. citizen had never heard of a smoke alarm. By 1995, an estimated 93 percent of all American homes - single - and multi- family, apartments, nursing homes, dormitories, etc. - were equipped with alarms. Fire services across the country have played a major and influential public education role in alerting the public to the benefits of smoke alarms.

But as commonplace as smoke alarms have become, we continue to see alarms that are disabled and/or have their batteries removed. Following the death of 25-year-old Peter Talen in a fire on November 18, 2007, a new effort began to prevent the same kind of tragedy from occurring again.

In the house where Talen died, multiple smoke alarms had been disabled. Armed with that knowledge, Fire Marshal Ed Ruckriegel began work with the City Building Inspection Unit and City Alder Mike Verveer to pursue a stronger smoke alarm ordinance that would require tamper-resistant smoke alarms with 10-year lithium batteries - batteries that last the life of the smoke alarm unit.

That ordinance, named in memory of Peter Talen, was passed unanimously by the Common Council on March 3, 2009. It was signed by Mayor Dave Cieslewicz the next day.

The impact of smoke alarms on fire safety and protection 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. Alarms are most people's first line of defense against fire.

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 loved ones by providing the chance to escape.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is aware of the recent research indicating that sleeping children don't always awake when a smoke alarm activates. While these dramatic results are worrisome, we shouldn´t allow them to obscure the fact that smoke alarms are highly effective at reducing fire deaths and injuries.

NFPA would like to reaffirm the value of the smoke alarms already available to protect people from home fire deaths and voice our concern about the number of U.S. households without these early warning devices. Our research indicates that, while 95 percent of American homes have at least one smoke alarm, more than a third of these alarms are inoperable because of dead or missing batteries. Roughly 70% of home fire deaths result from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.

We also want to emphasize the need to continue planning and practicing home fire escape plans and to make sure everyone in a home can be awakened by the sound of the smoke alarm. We continue to reinforce the importance of developing and practicing a home fire escape plan during which the smoke alarm is activated so all family members know its sound.