Why bother testing your smoke alarm?

Recently, my cousin was cooking late at night. She forgot the cooking on and slept off only to be woken by the sound of her smoke alarm. She was pretty shaken and asked me why people don’t hear their smoke alarms and die in fires. My answer? Most of the time smoke alarms don’t go off when there is a fire/smoke because their batteries have run out and people often don’t find out because they haven’t been testing their smoke alarms. Or some people  simply don’t have smoke alarms in their homes. Some are lucky and get noisy warning when the battery level of their smoke alarm is near its end. I had to explain to my cousin that most deaths happen as a result of smoke inhalation rather than burns or injury. My cousin was surprised that smoke alarms need to be tested that often! She considered herself lucky.

Some people have this same belief about smoke alarms and have very little knowledge about fire. When I was younger, I wondered how people could be asleep and not know they were on fire and jump up from their sleep and save themselves.  The simple answer yet unknown to many is because smoke kills long before the fire gets to them. Smoke from fire is very toxic and contains a cocktail of gases and dangerous substances which causes inability of the body’s cells to use oxygen. Smoke when inhaled can cause lead to coughing, noisy breathing shortness of breath (most likely as a result of by direct injury to the respiratory tract which causes decreased oxygen delivery to the blood and hence, decreased ability of the blood to carry oxygen) and headache (due to exposure to carbon monoxide), and acute mental status changes such as confusion, seizures and coma.

There have been many accidents involving fire – some accidental, some out of ignorance and some due to arson but most have led to deaths resulting in hundreds of lost lives all over the world. This is a huge loss to the human race. I urge us not to stay ignorant. You might think it is not your problem but even trained people can get killed by fire. Don’t suffer in ignorance, stay informed, get some training and visit www.hse.gov.uk to get as much information as possible. Remember also, to test your smoke alarms at least once a month. Or get one if you don’t have one.

Stay safe and stay alive!