In a recent article for Security Sales & Integration, David George pointed out the importance of life safety devices such as monitored smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in the protection of your family, pets and home. There’s no doubt that smoke detectors are one of the most important safety devices for the home and that they save lives. But they’re often taken for granted. There were 2,520 residential fire deaths in 2011, 40% of which occurred in homes with no smoke detectors, according to NFPA’s Fire Loss in the United States During 2011. Smoke detectors are far more common than devices detecting carbon monoxide (CO). Only 15% of homes have working CO detectors installed. Yet CO, an odorless and invisible gas, can be just as deadly, and is in fact, the leading cause of airborne poisoning in the United States. In homes where smoke or CO devices are installed, retail standalone smoke or CO devices are the de facto standard. Unfortunately, for various reasons, many of these devices may not provide the protection they promise. For example, they may have been installed incorrectly, not received required maintenance, the sensors may be expired, the batteries may be dead, or, in some cases, the homeowner may have disabled the device themselves. One stunning statistic: less than half of the smoke detectors installed in homes with fires actually operated. The inexpensive smoke detectors detect the presence of smoke by ionization which is most responsive to flaming fires, while most professional model smoke detectors use photoelectric technology which is most responsive to smoldering fires where there is a greater chance of the occupants losing their life due to smoke inhalation. Most homeowners are completely unaware that they have another, much higher level of smoke and CO protection available: central station monitored, system-connected detection devices. Although system-connected fire and life-safety systems are common and often required in schools, hospitals and other commercial buildings, very few single-family homes have them. When residences do have monitored devices, they are typically for security. Fire and security capabilities can be integrated, even though there are some differences in how they operate. Basically, the security system only recognizes two states or conditions: normal or trouble. The fire alarm system recognizes four different states or conditions: normal, alarm, trouble and supervisory. Integrating protective features for fire and security — as well as CO — is not complex and the cost of adding fire or CO detection to a monitored residential security system is relatively low. Early warning is essential to effective fire and life safety because emergencies can occur at any time and in any place. Yet it’s not just about having early warning: Standalone devices can go into alarm just as quickly as system-connected devices. The difference is that when the system is connected to a remote monitoring station, emergency response to the incident is immediate. A monitoring station will attempt to contact the homeowner and immediately dispatch the appropriate emergency response when an alarm is activated. Both the homeowner, who may not be home at the time of the incident, and the fire department are alerted to the system’s alarm state.
This early notification is extremely important to life safety for the following reasons:
1) Increases evacuation time for building occupants
2) Emergency medical help can be immediately sent to those in need
3) First responders can help people exit the building safely, including residents who may be overcome by smoke or gas and are unable to evacuate on their own.
Monitoring is especially important in cases where occupants are not capable of responding appropriately to a local alarm. Examples include: the elderly or disabled individuals; small children; individuals already overcome by the effects of CO or smoke; and even pets in an otherwise empty house. A feature of most monitoring services is the ability to keep special information on the residence, which comes up on the computer screen whenever an alarm is received from that home. Thus, if there is a disabled or elderly resident, the operator can see this information and pass it to the first responders. A side benefit of monitored life safety devices is that they are installed by professionals at Dial One Security who increase the reliability and effectiveness by placing them exactly how and where they are most needed. Proper placement avoids the majority of nuisance alarms, which annoys people and may cause them to disable or remove the life-safety device. Additionally, professionals can help residences stay up to code. Whether a home in a certain part of the country needs to meet NFPA codes, building code, local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) requirements or legislative mandates, it can be a bit tricky knowing what is required. Performance of the monitored system is supervised by the central station and will alert the homeowner of any equipment performance issues such as malfunctioning detectors or if system is experiencing mechanical trouble. The connected system will also send trouble signals to the panel so that homeowners are aware there is an issue and call to schedule service. In addition, monitored co detectors also alert the central station if a wiring problem is detected and when the sensor has reached it’s “end of life”. Rather than discarding the entire detector when the CO cell has reached end-of-life, the cell itself can be easily replaced in the field. In the event of a smoke or CO event, all the detector sounders on the loop will be activated. This means when one device sounds, they all sound and the appropriate signal is sent to the panel for alerting the monitoring station.
Many times people may have a variety of misconceptions about integrated home security fire alarm systems. Let’s look at these common myths with insight.
Myth #1 – My home is insured, so I’m already covered. – Insurance doesn’t prevent a loss; insurance compensates you after the loss. An integrated security/fire/CO system will protect your family, home and valuables by deterring burglars, summoning the authorities, and notifying you and anyone else you designate. Plus, most insurance plans offer a discount for having integrated, system-connected smoke or smoke/CO detectors.
Myth #2 – I don’t need an integrated fire system because I have battery-operated smoke detectors. – Any smoke detector will wake you in the event of fire — if the batteries work, and you’re not already suffering from smoke inhalation or CO poisoning, which can inhibit evacuation. Monitored smoke detectors and CO detectors automatically alert the fire department, even if you’re not home, to help save your family and property. System-connected devices are hardwired with battery back-up, giving you the reassurance of two power sources. Plus, when a device needs to be replaced or fixed, it sends a maintenance alert, signaling the need for attention.
Myth #3 – Frequent false alarms make integrated fire systems more trouble than they’re worth. – System-connected fire and life-safety devices that are installed and maintained by trained, licensed professionals should only go off when they are supposed to. Professionals know where to position devices to make them most effective while minimizing exposure to cooking smoke and other non-emergency sources. If you are experiencing false alarms, consult with Dial One Security to discuss reconfiguring your system, replacing or relocating detection devices.
Myth #4 – A system will ruin the look of my home with unsightly wires and devices. – Although it is sometimes difficult to conceal all the wiring, professional installers have been trained to minimize exposed wire and to install devices as unobtrusively as possible. Wireless systems allow installation flexibility for proper placement in existing residences or challenging environments where it is difficult to pull wire.
Overall, having the right fire and life-safety protection systems and services is critical to complete protection. With the potential of loss of human life and destruction of assets, they give homeowners peace of mind knowing they are protected and have the best chance of escaping. They can even allow homeowners to receive a discount on their homeowner’s insurance premiums.
We hope this helps you understand the importance of having monitored smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Feel free to contact Dial One Security with any questions that you might have.