Cause For Alarm: The Need For Photoelectric Smoke Alarms

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Alabama has the third highest risk of dying in a fire in the country and Tennessee has the sixth.

Because of this, more and more people are advocating for stricter smoke alarm requirements.

Much of the need stems from two fatal fires in the Tennessee Valley.

On February 12, a house fire in Limestone County claimed the lives of Josephine Lamar and Traci Shook.

Then on March 27, Marlene Miland and Dexter Miland Junior died in an apartment fire in Decatur.

In both of these instances, the victims’ families believe faulty smoke alarms may have played a factor.

It’s an issue WHNT News 19 first addressed as a Taking Action Investigation two years ago and the fight continues to make photoelectric smoke alarms the standard.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, 56 people in the state of Alabama died this year in a fire.

More than a quarter of those deaths occurred in the Tennessee Valley.

Experts say this statistic is a result of ionization smoke alarms and lack of knowledge about them.

“The fires that typically kill happen at night when you’re asleep and that type of fire has an extended smoldering phase and in the smoldering stages of the fire the ionization smoke alarm won’t go off at all,” said fire protection consultant Adrian Butler.

Huntsville attorney Gary Conchin is hoping to change that with a lawsuit targeting both manufacturers of ionization smoke alarms and the safety organization that approves them.

“It’s time that these smoke alarm manufacturers are sued because they’re putting out a product that they know is dangerous and they know will kill people and they’re not labeling them properly,” said fire protection consultant Dean Dennis. “They’re just going ahead and putting their profits ahead of lives.”

Conchin visited Wednesday with Butler and David Isaac, founders of the World Fire Safety Foundation.

The men are on a mission to educate consumers on the difference between ionization smoke alarms and photoelectric smoke alarms.

“You’ve got a 44 percent chance of surviving with an ionization smoke alarm and about a 96 percent chance of surviving with a photoelectric,” said Isaac.

How can you tell which type of smoke alarm you have in your home?

“If anyone’s in doubt, the chances are almost 100 percent, they’ll have the ionization type of smoke alarm,” said Butler.

Switching to a photoelectric smoke alarm is fairly easy. Go to your local hardware store and look for an alarm that either says “photoelectric” or has a “P” on the box.

If the box features an “I,” a radioactive symbol or says “dual sensor,” the World Fire Safety Foundation says to stay away.

“Alabama has probably one of the highest fire death rates in the nation and nobody wants to be first when there’s something negative like people dying,” said Dennis.

Tennessee has tried to pass legislation to ban ionization smoke alarms, but the bill has failed.

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