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Ann Davison, CAE
Strategic Information Manager
703–273-9815 x329
adavison@iafc.org

Update: Get The Facts Straight on Smoke Alarms

March 22, 2013

On Friday, March 22, a national TV network began airing what is expected to be a weekend-long focus on smoke alarm technology. Friday morning's segment highlights an important issue—that studies have shown children may have difficulty waking to the standard smoke alarm tones and that alarms that include voice-recordings have demonstrated success in addressing this issue.

While the IAFC applauds the network for covering this important safety topic, it is disappointed at the sensationalized approach to Friday's piece, which included several misleading statements that imply this topic is a new one and that there are no existing solutions on the market. In fact, this topic of research—and public coverage of it—has been ongoing for many years. Additionally, multiple smoke alarm manufacturers currently have products on the market that offer voice recorded options.

Most concerning, as the piece did not include any mention on the overall effectiveness of smoke alarms and only alluded to the effectiveness of the tones on adults, is that the piece may contribute to an environment of distrust and complacency by the general population, which may lead to more homes being unprotected by these life-saving devices.

The piece is expected to re-run, with potential expanded coverage and with a re-cap or update on an earlier technology piece (see below), on additional news shows over the weekend.

Know the Facts: Ionization Smoke Detectors

National TV Spot Slamming Ionization Detectors May Lead to Misinformation

October 3, 2012

The IAFC is encouraging all fire department personnel and the media to seek education about the complex issue of smoke alarm technology. This morning, a popular national morning show called into question the effectiveness of ionization smoke alarms. The IAFC position statement on smoke alarms (pdf) advocates that having both types of technology provides maximum protection against both flaming and smoldering fires.

This morning’s media segment was narrowly focused on research in the smoldering fire environment, where ionization alarms are well-documented to react slower than photoelectric detectors. There was only a passing mention of the ionization detector’s performance in the flaming fire environment, where research shows it reacts faster than its counterpart.

“What those who sensationalize a portion of this type of research don’t realize is that half-information leads to unintended consequences that may cause people to remove what protection they may have in place,” said Chief Hank Clemmensen, IAFC president and chairman of the board. 

“It’s frustrating that after so many years of proven effectiveness and progress on scientifically-valid research, we continue to see this type of coverage and lack of education on smoke alarms," continued Clemmensen. "We should be using research to project our energy forward, not back.”

Know the Facts

The IAFC encourages its members to review the following resources and share them with their responders so they are prepared to assist the media and the public.

IAFC Position Statement: Use of Residential Smoke Alarms (pdf)
The statement advocates for a use of both ionization and photoelectric technology to ensure a high-level of protection against both flaming and smoldering fires. It also makes clear that either of the technologies alone is better than no protection at all.

Smart Choices for Smoke Alarm Placement Toolkit
The IAFC developed this educational program in partnership with industry, to support responder education on smoke alarm issues. Key tools you should review today include:

Understanding Smoke Alarm Technology

Supporting Studies 
Quick summaries of current research relating to the ionization/photoelectric debate

Diagram highlighting different technology paired with where typical home fire threats exist

“It would be great if by tomorrow morning, we could wave a magic wand and have every home in the country protected with dual-sensor alarms. But the reality is that’s not going to happen. Our focus needs to be about education--not panic and fear tactics,” said Alan Perdue, international director of the IAFC Fire and Life Safety Section.

Responders should be prepared to provide reliable facts and complete information, and uphold the highest level of protection to their communities: a combination of ionization and photoelectric technology so that the home is protected against both smoldering and flaming fires.

About the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC)
The IAFC represents the leadership of firefighters and emergency responders worldwide. IAFC members are the world's leading experts in firefighting, emergency medical services, terrorism response, hazardous materials spills, natural disasters, search and rescue, and public safety legislation. Since 1873, the IAFC has provided a forum for its members to exchange ideas, develop professionally and uncover the latest products and services available to first responders.

About the IAFC Fire and Life Safety Section (FLSS)
The mission of the IAFC Fire and Life Safety Section is to reduce injury, life loss and property loss by advancing the field of fire prevention and life safety with leadership and vision for fire safety professionals.