Smoke Detector Program

Everyone knows how important an alarm clock is, right?  But the latest report from the National Fire Protection Association indicated 70% of all home fire fatalities occur in homes where there are no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.  In half of the reported fires with no working smoke alarms, batteries were missing or disconnected, and batteries were dead in 15% of these incidents.

"I don't need a smoke detector. If there is a fire in the middle of the night, I'll smell the smoke and wake up."  WRONG!   When you go to sleep, your sense of smell goes to sleep with you.  Unless the smoke is very acrid and irritates your nostrils as you breathe, you may not wake up at all.

Smoke created by fire contains a deadly gas called carbon monoxide... odorless and colorless, you can't see it, taste it, or smell it. As you breathe, it puts you into a deeper sleep and can kill you before you know it.


Although we like to feel safe at home, most fatal fires occur at night when people are sleeping.  Most deaths occur from inhaling smoke or poisonous gases, not from flames.  A smoke detector can alert you to a fire, in time to save your life.  Remember, the smoke alarm sounds only the warning.  Develop and practice an escape plan, so everyone in your household can safely get out.


Smoke Detector Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q: Why smoke detectors? Why not heat detectors?
    • A:  Smoke and deadly gases tend to spread faster and farther than heat, which is why an operating smoke detector is so important.  More people die from the effects of smoke and deadly gases by a margin of 2 to 1.  A smoke detector automatically sounds a warning when it senses smoke or other products of combustion.  The early warning let you escape a fire before it spreads.
  • Q:  How many smoke detectors should I have?
    • A:  At least one smoke detector in every bedroom and one outside in the hallway. Also, install one detector on each level of the home, if you have a second floor or basement.
  • Q:  Where is the proper location for the smoke detectors?
    • A:  Generally, on the ceiling at least 4 inches out from the wall.  If you must install them on the wall, install them at least 4 inches down from the ceiling but no lower than 12 inches from the ceiling. Keep them high because smoke rises.
    • Place smoke detectors at the top of each stairwell and at the end of each long hallway. Remember, do not place them any closer than 3 feet of an air supply register that might recirculate smoke resulting in a delayed alarm.  Be sure to keep the detector away from fireplaces and wood stoves to avoid false alarms.
  • Q:  How are smoke detectors powered?
    • A:  Some smoke detectors are powered by a 9-volt battery, some by the home's electrical system, and some a combination of both (wired into the home's electrical system and equipped with a 9-volt battery back-up.)
  • Q:  Who should install my smoke detector?
    • A:  If you elect to purchase smoke detectors connected to your home's electrical system, have a qualified electrician install them.  If you purchase battery-powered ones, you can install them with a screwdriver and a drill but install according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Q:  What about maintenance?
    • A:  Keeping smoke detectors in good condition is easy.  
    • Change the battery (if equipped) at least twice a year or sooner if the smoke detector signals a low battery.  Daylight Saving Time serves as a good reminder... when you change your clocks, change your batteries.
    • Clean the detector face and screen to remove dust.
    • Test your smoke detector at least weekly.  
    • Always follow the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Q:  How do I test my smoke detector?
    • A:  Push the test button or test them with smoke.  If you test them with smoke, use a match or candle.  Blow out the flame and let the smoke drift up into the smoke detector.  Never test the smoke detector with a flame!
  • Q:  What is that chirping noise?
    • A:  That noise, usually every 60 seconds, indicates a battery is going dead.  Change the battery as soon as possible.  That signal may last for a couple of days, but once the battery is dead, you will have no protection.
  • Q:  How do I prevent an annoying false alarm?
    • A:  If you are getting false alarms, try moving your smoke detector farther from the kitchen or bathroom and closer to the bedroom.  Some smoke detectors are specifically designed for kitchen or bathroom use.  Regular smoke detectors can be too sensitive for these areas and cause annoying false alarms.

For questions about smoke detectors, please contact the Fire Prevention Division.


External Links

Home Safety Council

Smoke Detector Public Service Announcement Video


This City of Stockton web page last reviewed on --- 2/4/2016