New York State
Association of Fire Chiefs

Providing Service to Those Who Serve

Smoke Alarm Resource Center

Smoke alarms are an important part of keeping you and your family safe from fire. Having working smoke alarms in your home reduces your risk of dying in a fire by 50 percent! Smoke alarms save lives by providing an early warning of danger and giving you precious time to escape from fire.

Fire safety experts recommend that smoke alarms be installed on every floor of the home. In addition, smoke alarms should be installed inside every bedroom and outside of the sleeping area (in the hallway). It is also a good idea to install smoke alarms at critical points along your escape path. For example, put a smoke alarm at the bottom of a stairwell to warn you if the room below is full of smoke. Also, if you take frequent naps in a particular room that is not a bedroom, such as a sunroom or family room, consider installing a smoke alarm there, too!

Types of Smoke Alarms

Smoke alarms come in two types – ionization and photoelectric. The name refers to the type of technology used to sense the smoke. Ionization alarms are better at sensing fast, flaming fires, such as cooking fires. Photoelectric alarms are best at sensing smoldering fires, such as upholstery fires. For maximum protection, you should have both types of smoke alarms in your home.

You can also buy interconnected smoke alarms. These will send a signal to each other so that when one smoke alarm goes off, they all go off. This is especially helpful if your home has more than one floor or is a larger home. It also provides peace of mind if you have family members who may need help escaping from a fire, such as small children, an elderly adult, or someone with a mobility impairment, who often spends time in another part of your home.

There are also smoke alarms available for those with a hearing impairment. These smoke alarms will flash a very bright strobe light when the alarm is activated. Another type of smoke alarm for the hearing impaired is the “shaker” alarm. This technology uses a disc or mat that you place on the seat of a chair, under a bed pillow, or on top of a mattress. The disc/mat will vibrate to alert you in the event of a fire. There are also other technologies available that include alarms with different pitches and frequencies, alarms with higher decibel sounds, and alarms with different patterns of alerts.

Finally, you should use smoke alarms that have a long life battery. This assures that your smoke alarm will always have the power it needs to protect you and your family. In New York state, a law will become effective on January 1, 2018, that will require all smoke alarms sold to have a non-removable long-life battery sealed inside the smoke alarm. These smoke alarms can be purchased NOW!

Smoke Alarm Maintenance

Smoke alarms should be tested monthly to make sure they are still working. This is as simple as pressing the TEST button with a broom handle or the end of a long cooking spoon. Test your smoke alarm the same day you regularly do something else every month and it will become a habit!

Smoke alarms also need to be cleaned to removed any dust, cobwebs, pet fur, or other buildup that may have made its way into the detection unit. This is as simple as using a hair dryer to blow air at the smoke alarm for a few seconds to dislodge the debris. You can also use the extension hose from your vacuum cleaner around the edges and surface of the smoke alarm. It only takes a few seconds to perform this routine maintenance, but it will keep your smoke alarm in good working condition and keep you and your family safe!

If a smoke alarm chirps, replace the battery immediately. If it has a sealed battery compartment, replace the entire smoke alarm.

All smoke alarms should be replaced after 10 years, even if they appear to still work.

Smoke Alarm Resources

NYSAFC "Smoke Alarms Save Lives" Infographic

Download NYSAFC's "Smoke Alarms Save Lives" Infographic (PDF - best for printing)
Download NYSAFC's "Smoke Alarms Save Lives" Infographic (JPG - best for Facebook)

For more information about smoke alarms, check out these websites:

Smoke Alarm Resources for Fire Safety Educators

There are lots of smoke alarm resources available online. A quick search will help you find just what you need for your specific program. Here are just a few that can help you get started with your smoke alarm education activities:
  • FEMA Smoke Alarm Outreach Materials page (Infographics, social media messages and images, stock photography, handouts, and other smoke alarm campaign materials)
  • NFPA Fire and Life Safety Educators page (A wealth of resources, brochures, infographics, cartoons, fact sheets, tip sheets and more)
  • U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) Fire Safety Education page (Downloadable posters, fact sheets, summaries, and even a smoke alarm video that can be shared on social media)
  • U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) Fire-Safe Seniors Program (Guides for program development, handouts, flyers, and other resources for educating older adults about smoke alarms and fire safety)

Smoke Alarm Installation Projects

NYSAFC has worked to increase the prevalence of functional smoke alarms in homes and communities across New York. In the past six years, NYSAFC has conducted three smoke alarm installation campaigns. These initiatives helped local fire departments install more than 8,132 smoke alarms. It also reached over 10,000 New Yorkers with personalized fire safety education. Each of these projects was unique to the community and focused on high-risk populations including families with small children, older adults aged 65-plus, and the deaf or hearing impaired.

If you are interested in developing or implementing a smoke alarm installation project in your community, check out the links below.

NFPA’s guide “Planning and Implementing a Successful Smoke Alarm Installation Program Guide”

USFA and CDC’s "Fire-Safe Seniors Program Implementation Guide"

NYSAFC is proud to share this information as part of its most recent smoke alarm grant initiative. This project was funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Grant Programs Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, AFG Fire Prevention and Safety Grant award EMW-2014-FP-00599.