Smoke Detectors to the Test: What Happens When They Fail? - WBAY

Smoke Detectors to the Test: What Happens When They Fail?

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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.

TEST #1

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.

Then beeping.

"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.

Earlier this year the city of Cincinnati did as well.

Wisconsin only requires smoke detectors be installed. The state doesn't specify which type.

TEST #2

This test turns to the number one cause for home fires.

"We've got some not-so-lean beef here," Craig said.

In our makeshift kitchen, cooking fires often quickly burn out of control.

In just more than six minutes, the beef is sizzling and grease is about to ignite.

This time the alarm that never sounded when smoke filled the room (ionization) is the first to go off.

"Called that one," Craig said.

Then 15, 20, 30 minutes speed by.

"Thirty-two minutes," Craig notes. " Fair amount of smoke in here. The burgers are actually on fire. Ionization detector is the only one that's been going off."

After about 35 minutes, the photoelectric alarm goes off, too.

Firefighters, along with national organizations, recommend everyone have a photoelectric alarm.

They also urge ionization as well.

Wednesday night on Action 2 News at 10, we'll show you easy steps to have both types of technology.

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