As part of Fire Prevention Week, Action 2 News teamed up with the Green Bay Metro Fire Department, putting smoke detectors to the test.
Two distinct types of technology exist in alarms -- ionization and photoelectric.
Green Bay Fire Department Lieutenant Nick Craig estimates as many as 95% of people have ionization alarms.
Ionization generally sound faster for big-flaming fires.
But for those that start with a little smoke and may go unnoticed for awhile, photoelectric alarms test far superior.
With our cameras rolling at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College's training grounds, four different experiments show critical minutes are sometimes lost, when minutes can mean the difference between life and death.
Using a soldering iron, Lieutenant Craig emulates what happens when a couch cushion lights on fire.
It could start as simple as a dropped cigarette.
Both alarms -- an ionization and photoelectric -- were positioned on the ceiling.
Three minutes and 20 seconds into the test, you start noticing a little smoke.
Thirteen minutes in, Craig notes, "It's really starting to produce some good smoke."
Craig then closes the window on the test room to demonstrate no ventilation.
Seven minutes pass.
"Yup," Craig looks. "That's photo."
Twenty minutes in, the first alarm sounds, which is photoelectric.
As the room continues to fill with smoke and carbon monoxide, the type of alarm most homeowners have, sits silent.
Thirty, 35, 40 minutes pass.
"We're at 45 minutes here," Craig said. "Take a look inside. That's a lot of smoke."
At 45 minutes, firefighters say the level of smoke and carbon monoxide is unsafe.
As we stop this test, the ionization alarm never went off.
"This would definitely be a very dangerous environment with the amount of smoke that's in here," Craig said.
In a 2011 news release, the International Association of Firefighters urged all "federal, state and provincial officials" to require photoelectric smoke detectors.
The released said, "A delayed warning during a smoldering fire, especially at night, can incapacitate people who are sleeping and lead to death as fire spreads."
It's prompted a number of states like Vermont, Massachusetts, Iowa and Maine to pass different types of legislation requiring photoelectric smoke detectors.
Monday, September 1 2014 9:11 AM EDT2014-09-01 13:11:08 GMT
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