Fire Prevention & Protection, Tech Zone

Investigating Smoke Alarm Effectiveness in Fatal Fires

Issue 7 and Volume 168.

BY JOSEPH M. FLEMING AND VYTENIS BABRAUSKAS When the issue of smoke alarms and fire investigation comes up, we are reminded of Mark Twain’s wisdom, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”1 The fire service in the United States has been so “educated” about the effectiveness of smoke alarms that its members often assume that if someone died, the unit must not have operated. If a smoke alarm is found, then they assume the victim acted inappropriately or that the fire grew so fast that the smoke alarm could not provide adequate time to escape. Such assumptions may be seriously flawed. Following are sections of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations, 2014 edition, that relate to the concerns addressed in this article (italics inserted by the authors).2 Section 4.4.1. Receiving…

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