2002-10-19 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Daylight Savings Time ends on Sunday, October 27 giving all of us an extra hour. Make good use of the extra hour by changing your smoke alarm batteries and testing the alarm to ensure it works properly.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has estimated that approximately sixteen million homes in the United States have smoke alarms that do not work. The reason? The batteries are dead or missing.

Fire is the second leading cause of unintentional death in the home. Each year, nearly 2,700 people die in residential fires, and there are more than 330,000 residential fires reported to fire departments.

The good news is that about 90 percent of U.S. households have smoke alarms installed. Having an installed alarm is an important step to take. The location of the alarm is almost as important. Remember, to place a smoke alarm on each level of a multi-story home, outside sleeping areas, and inside bedrooms.

Consumers should test each smoke alarm every month to make sure it is working properly. Long-life smoke alarms with 10-year batteries have been available to consumers since 1995. These long-life alarms also should be tested monthly.

Keeping residents safe and promoting fire safety has been on the Assembly Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee's agenda. The Committee has been researching legislation, A.5614-A, which would require the use of long-life batteries in all battery-operated smoke detectors. Long life batteries are defined as lasting for a period of ten years.

The premise of the bill is that many battery-operated smoke detectors do not work due to missing or dead batteries. If a battery is not tested or regularly replaced, the smoke alarm could be of little value when you need it most.

While requiring battery operated smoke alarms to have a long-life battery in order to address the shortfalls of the conventional battery operated smoke detectors seems like a good idea, the Committee has been researching the durability and reliability of long-life batteries. Since long-life batteries were only introduced into the market in 1995 there is little operational data on such batteries. The Committee would like to see results of their reliability prior to requiring all battery-operated smoke alarms to use such batteries. You can expect the Committee to continue its work on this issue and in trying to reduce smoke/fire related deaths.

In the meantime, you can take a number of steps, issued by the CPSC, to minimize the risk of fire injury or a fire in your home by: Installing and maintaining smoke alarms; Maintaining gas and electrical appliances;

Keeping matches and lighters away from children; Keeping an eye on lighted candles and developing and practicing a fire escape plan.

Lastly, let's all remember to change our smoke alarm batteries on October 27.

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