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Slow reacting smoke detectors could cost you your life

Late one night, a woman wakes from a dead sleep. The air around her is smoky, choking her every breath. Immediately, her feet fly out from under the covers. She knows what's happening; her house is on fire. But where is the piercing beep of her smoke detectors? How long has the fire been burning?

Crawling along the floor she makes her way to the telephone and dials 911. Frantically, she tells the operator that her house is on fire and that her four children are upstairs. She's worried for their safety and for her own. But tragically it's already too late for her children who have succumbed to smoke inhalation.

But if all of the smoke alarms in the house were working, why hadn't they sounded when it really mattered?

Just about everyone in the state of California, and in other states, believe that a smoke detector sounds when smoke is present but this couldn't be further from the truth. According to manufacturers, most alarms rely on ionization technology which triggers generally in fast fires. But in smoldering, smoky fires, such as the one that killed the woman's four children, the process that normally triggers the alarm is slowed usually causing the device to alert people far too late.

In a demonstration conducted by NBC News this month, three ionization detectors were placed in a room with a smoldering couch. It took nearly 36 minutes before the first device sounded the alarm, the room having filled completely with smoke by this point.

According to the manufacturers, all their products provide adequate escape time. Because of this, experts say that the government is unlikely to require new safety standards for detectors, even though there is safer technology on the market. Many people fear that if new regulations aren't put into place, many more could die from a device that is supposed to save lives.

Source: NBC News, "Transcript: Not all smoke detectors are created equal," Jeff Rossen, Oct. 3, 2012

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