Ostbloom: Change clocks and smoke alarm batteries

Doug Ostbloom, the Fort Dodge Fire Department’s fire marshal has seen just about every type and size of fire imaginable during his decades of service. His memories includes everything from food charred on stoves to destruction, injuries and deaths.

There is one thing though that he has not seen: A fatal fire in a home with properly installed and working smoke alarms.

Instead, “there’s been quite a few where they saved people,” he said.

The Fort Dodge Fire Department and his office are both encouraging residents to change the batteries in their detectors at the same time they are changing their clocks back an hour as part of the Install. Inspect. Protect. Campaign.

It’s a good time to replace batteries since most residents have to go through the home resetting clocks.

He said there are several common reasons why. He’s frequently investigated fire scenes where even though smoke alarms were installed, they were not working, due to dead or removed batteries.

“That’s one of our biggest problems,” he said.

Sometimes it’s simple neglect, other times, a battery may have been taken out to silence a nuisance alarm from burned food or even removed when the alarm starts its dead battery chirp, then just forgotten about.

It can also just be an old unit. He said any that are more than 10 years old should be replaced.

He recommends that detectors be installed inside and outside of every sleeping area in the home and on every floor. He also recommends alarms that are connected together.

“If one sounds, they all sound,” he said.

He said wireless units are now available that are all on the same radio frequency. They can be purchased in a five pack that’s ready to go.

“It’s a good idea if you have to replace your detectors,” he said.

He also said that a 10-year detector, with a factory installed battery is available that is intended to last that long, then be thrown away and replaced.

He also recommends alarms that have dual detectors that sense both smoldering fires and open flames. They are able to sound the alarm much quicker.

One thing he does not recommend is a smoke detector combined with a CO2 detector. He said that while a CO2 detector is a great idea, their recommended installation placement differs from smoke detectors.

The detectors also need to be inspected and tested on a monthly basis, he said. In a dusty environment, they should also be carefully vacuumed.

Of course, having the alarms working properly is just part of having a family fire plan. He said that an exit plan should be developed ahead of time and practiced – especially if there are children in the home – on a regular basis.

“We practice at work and school,” he said. “We need to practice at home too.”

As part of the escape plan, he said, there needs to be a prearranged meeting place outside the home. Anyone else who’s left in charge of the home, such as a baby sitter, needs to know it too.

He also said that smoke alarms – while perhaps not as glamorous as a video game – are something to consider as a Christmas gift as well.

It might just be the gift of life.