Prevention is key

Pay respect to smoke and CO alarms, says Kya deLongchamp — it only takes three minutes to die from smoke inhalation.

Throughout the country this Christmas an army of small plastic boxes will suffer verbal attacks that would make a docker run home to mammy.

Beaten with sweeping brushes in lusty target practice and left bravely bleating for attention for weeks, our heroic star is maligned for its putty white boxiness and overlooked for its vital 24/7 starring role.

I admit to drowning a seized smoke alarm in a bucket of water for peace’ sake. It gave out a strangled ‘mw-eep’ for at least an hour.

Gross stupidity. It takes just three minutes to die from smoke inhalation and if you’re asleep, it will just push you further under.

Required by current building regulations, smoke alarms are just that — plural, and an average family home will demand at least four alarms.

Ionisation smoke alarms are the standard inexpensive alarms (€10 or less). They are highly sensitive to fast flame fires. Ionisation/optical units cost around €40 but offer ultimate protection, as they not only cover fast flash fires but detect large particles of smoke emitted from a slow burning fire from say a smouldering piece of furniture or wiring.

Pure ionisers won’t go off at a hint of a hot grilling, and are sometimes referred to as ‘toast-proof ’ making them suited to the kitchen.

You should ideally have an alarm in every room. If a hall is more than 12m long, there should be an alarm at each end. Any room with electrical connections, or one occupied by a smoker, where the door is ever closed, should have a dedicated alarm.

With electrical gadgetry from TVs to PCs seducing their way into the bedroom, it makes sense that an alarm should follow.

Test the alarms once a week by pressing the test button. Ensure you can hear that alarm very clearly from your sleeping quarters, using the TEST button for an alarm on the landing with the bedroom door shut.

Put one at the top of the stairwell, ensuring it is not a ‘dead air’ space where smoke might not reach.

This dead space in most room is in an area where the walls meet the ceiling, so place the alarm at least 30cm from the wall, and 30cm down from the ceiling if it is mounted on the wall.

The trouble starts in those rooms where we are combusting materials in our normal domestic routine, such as the kitchen.

Try to locate the alarm a few metres away from the cooker, and in a place where occasional airstreams are unlikely to carry safe cooking fumes across the room and set off the alarm.

Very dusty, dirty, damp, cold and hot areas are also not ideal, and may either make them stop working or invoke nuisance alarms, so keep them clean and tested more regularly.

Fluorescent lights have a pulse that can also upset the alarm’s sensor, so keep the unit about 1.5 metres away from these.

Pop your alarms open and use the soft brush attachment on your vacuum to give them a dust out twice yearly. Above all replace the battery every year, without fail. Even if the low-battery signal does not kick in, change the battery.

Rechargeable (NiCad) batteries are not suitable for smoke alarms as there’s no fall-off in the power.

Ten year lithium powered alarms are handy, as you can put them up for a decade and forget them. But that’s the trouble, they should still be tested just as if they were plain battery models and replaced well before their ten years are up as their circuitry can give up.

If you have a family member who is hard of hearing, a specialised flashing or vibrating unit may be needed. One family member could be appointed as battery sergeant, and the job is best done routinely.

If you have a planner on your phone or computer, use that to prompt the battery change on the same date each year. If the unit does go off, assume there might be a fire before dismissing it as a mere nuisance ring.

Ventilate the room and don’t remove the battery to stop it going off. Keep a supply of the correct batteries on hand.

A fire safety plan is something the whole family need to be aware of: where the exits are; doors that are accessible; windows that can be safely used as means of escape and where to assemble once everyone is out.

A fire-blanket and working fire-extinguisher are vital for every home, and will cost as little €22 for a blanket and €20 for a fire extinguisher from Argos, as an indication.

In the case of a fire that has taken hold, the simple advice to every member of the family is to:

. Get out

. Get the fire service out (999 or 112).

. Stay out

The order of these prompts is critical. Don’t linger on the phone frantically summoning the fire services. Once you are out, don’t go back for any thing. You may treasure that painting or laptop, but putting materials ahead of your safety may rob your family of something infinitely more important —you.

Carbon Monoxide — the silent killer

Several tragic incidents across Ireland and the UK in recent years have brought to light an invisible, odourless, tasteless gas that can be present in even the best built home.

You can die from Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning during a fire event or by breathing in poisonous fumes produced in the burning of any fossil fuels, including gas, oil and coal.

In a safe combustion process, the addition of oxygen, will result in carbon in the fossil fuel, combining in the air, to produce carbon dioxide (CO2).

However, if there is a lack of air for the combustion process or the heating appliance is faulty, carbon monoxide can be produced.

There are many reasons your boiler or heating equipment may fail to completely combust fuel, but add a pernicious dose of CO to a tightly insulated space, such as a house, and the results can be lethal.

Your heating system and any fossil-fuelled cooker should be checked yearly by a registered contractor, including any flues, vents and fireplace used for clearing spent fumes from your unit.

If the room has a fuel burning appliance, with or without a flue, it should have a CO alarm. At the very least include alarms in the rooms you use most.

You should be able to hear a carbon monoxide alarm wherever you are in the house, so test the unit if it’s, say, in the utility room.

Fire alarms are best placed on the ceiling, 30cm from the wall and 1-3m from the appliance, not directly above it. A unit can work independently, or be radio linked so that if one goes off the others will.

A CO alarm should carry the CE mark, and ‘end-of-life indicator’, and comply with European Standard EN 50291 — this should be marked on the box.

Carbon is your authority here in Ireland for everything you need to know about this cunning intruder.

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