Fire Systems FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas created when fossil fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, propane, oil and methane) burn incompletely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment are possible sources of carbon monoxide. Vehicles running in an attached garage could also produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

However, consumers can protect themselves against CO poisoning by maintaining, using, and venting heating and cooking equipment and by being cautious when using vehicles in attached garages.

What is the effect of exposure to CO?

CO replaces oxygen in the bloodstream, eventually causing suffocation. Mild CO poisoning feels like the flu, but more serious poisoning leads to difficulty breathing and even death.

Just how sick people get from CO exposure varies greatly from person to person, depending on age, overall health, the concentration of the exposure (measured in parts per million), and the length of exposure. Higher concentrations are dangerous even for a short time.


What is your risk of CO poisoning?

Deaths from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning (about 700 in 1993) according to the National Safety Council are fairly rare. Three of every five of these deaths typically involve vehicles, one of every five typically involves heating or cooking equipment, and the other one of every five typically involves other or unspecified causes.

In fact, deaths from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning have dropped sharply in recent years, thanks to lower CO emissions from automobiles and safer heating and cooking appliances. Deaths from "smoke inhalation" in fires and suicides involving CO are far more common causes of gas-related suffocation deaths in the home. Published estimates on the role of CO in home fire deaths vary widely.

According to the NFPA, there were 242 CO-related non-fire deaths attributed to heating and cooking equipment in 1991. The leading specific types of equipment were:

  • Gas-fueled space heaters (69 deaths)
  • Gas-fueled furnaces (52 deaths)
  • Charcoal grills (36 deaths)
  • Gas-fueled ranges (23 deaths)
  • Portable kerosene heaters (23 deaths)
  • Wood stoves (13 deaths)
As with fire deaths, the risk of unintentional CO death is highest for the very young (ages 4 or under) and the very old (ages 75 or above).


How can you protect yourself from CO poisoning?

The best defenses against CO poisoning are safe use of vehicles (particularly in attached garages) and proper installation, use and maintenance of household cooking and heating equipment.

You may also want to install CO detectors inside your home to provide early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide. However, a CO detector is no substitute for safe use and maintenance of heating and cooking equipment.

What are CO detectors?

Household carbon monoxide detectors measure how much CO has accumulated. Currently, CO detectors sound an alarm when the concentration of CO in the air corresponds to 10% carboxyhemoglobin level in the blood. Since 10% COHb is at the very low end of CO poisoning, the alarm may sound before people feel particularly sick.

What causes CO detector nuisance alarms?

Pollution and atmospheric conditions in some areas cause low levels of CO to be present for long periods of time. In fact, these "background" conditions may increase the COHb level to over 10%, causing CO detectors to alarm even though conditions inside the home are not truly hazardous. Treat all CO detector alarms as real, until it has been verified that there is no threat from equipment inside the dwelling.

If you buy CO detectors:
  • Select detector(s) listed by a qualified, independent testing laboratory.
  • Follow manufacturer's recommendations for placement in your home.
  • Call your local fire department non-emergency telephone number. Tell the operator that you have purchased a CO detector and ask what number to call if the CO detector alarms. Be sure you understand whom to call if your detector alarms, and clearly post that number by your telephone(s). Make sure everyone in the household knows the difference between the fire emergency and CO emergency numbers (if there is a difference).
  • Test CO detectors at least once a month, following the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Replace CO detectors according to the manufacturer's instructions, usually about every two years.
  • Battery powered CO detectors may have unique battery packs designed to last approximately two years, compared to batteries used in smoke detectors, which require yearly replacement.

What to do if your CO detector alarms

If anyone shows signs of CO poisoning: Have everyone leave the building right away. Leave doors open as you go. Use a neighbor's telephone to report the CO alarm, following the instructions you received from the fire department when you bought the detector. Get immediate medical attention.

If no one has symptoms of CO poisoning: Open windows and doors, shut down heating and cooking equipment, and call a qualified technician to inspect all equipment.

Be on the lookout for any symptoms of CO poisoning. Follow the steps above if symptoms appear.

Safety Tips

If you need to warm up a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting the ignition. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open.

CO from a running vehicle inside an attached garage can get inside the house, even with the garage door open. Normal circulation does not provide enough fresh air to reliably prevent dangerous accumulations inside.

Have your vehicle inspected for exhaust leaks, if you have any symptoms of CO poisoning.

Have fuel burning household heating equipment (fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, wood stoves, and space or portable heaters) checked every year before cold weather sets in. All chimneys and chimney connectors should be evaluated for proper installation, cracks, blockages or leaks. Make needed repairs before using the equipment. Before enclosing central heating equipment in a smaller room, check with your fuel supplier to ensure that air for proper combustion is provided. When using a fireplace, open the flue for adequate ventilation.

Kerosene heaters are illegal in many states. Always check with local authorities before buying or using one. Open a window slightly whenever using a kerosene heater. Refuel outside, after the device has cooled.

Always use barbecue grills outside if they can produce carbon monoxide. Never use them in the home or garage. When purchasing new heating and cooking equipment, select factory built products approved by an independent testing laboratory. Do not accept damaged equipment. Hire a qualified technician (usually employed by the local oil or gas company) to install the equipment. Ask about and insist that the technician follow applicable fire safety and local building codes. If you purchase an existing home have a qualified technician evaluate the integrity of the heating and cooking systems, as well as the sealed spaces between the garage and house.

When camping, remember to use battery powered heaters and flashlights in tents, trailers and motor homes. Using fossil fuels inside these structures is extremely dangerous. NFPA 501, Standard on Recreational Vehicles, requires the installation of CO detector in recreational vehicles.

Safety Checklist
  • Carbon monoxide detectors are not substitutes for smoke detectors. Smoke detectors react to fire by-products, before CO detectors would alarm. Smoke detectors give earlier warning of a fire, providing more time to escape.
  • To guard against smoke and fire, be sure that your home has working smoke detectors on every level and just outside of all sleeping areas.
  • Know the difference between the sound of the smoke detectors and the sound of the carbon monoxide detector.
  • Have a home evacuation plan for any home emergency and practice the plan with all members of the household.

Home Fire Escape Planning

What is a fire escape plan?
It's your strategy for a safe exit from your home during a fire emergency.

What ingredients make up an effective escape plan?
A careful escape plan begins with careful preparation, proper placement of smoke detectors and regular Exit Drills In The Home (E.D.I.T.H.) practice. Hopefully you will never have a fire in your home. However, should a fire occur, your safety and that of your family will depend on calm, rational actions of the occupants. Exit drills in the home and a carefully designed escape plan can be the key to a safe escape.

How do I put together a fire escape plan?
Advanced planning will ensure that you are ready for any fire emergency and can provide you and your loved ones with peace of mind. To design your own fire escape plan, sketch the floor plan of your home on a piece of paper. Indicate on the plan all doors, windows and other avenues of escape from each room in your home. Draw arrows to indicate the normal exits which would be your primary escape route. With an alternate color, draw arrows to indicate a secondary exit from each room in the home.

Choose a location outside the home where family members should meet once they have safely escaped. A neighbour's front yard or sidewalk may be an ideal meeting place.

Call 112 to report the fire.

If you need help in designing your plan or if you would like to have your plan reviewed, contact your local fire department for assistance. After completion of the floor plan, sit down with your family to to discuss these important points with them:

  • Location of smoke detectors. The number of detectors you need, and their location, depends upon the layout of your home. There should be a smoke detector located near each of the sleeping areas. It is also a good idea to have at least one detector on each level of your home.
  • Reporting a Fire. Everyone should know the location of telephones in the home and where to find a telephone outside of the home. It is very important that children also know the 112 phone number in order to report a fire or other emergency incidents to authorities.

Now that we have our plan, what's next?
Your fire escape plan may look great on paper, but does it really work? Regular exit drills in the home will allow you to test the plan and make adjustments as may be needed. When practising your exit drills in the home, remember to use alternate escape routes as well. Children should be closely supervised during drills in the home and no one should take unnecessary chances.

One of our family members has special needs.  How do we best include them in the plan?
Some people face greater risks during a fire emergency as they may have special needs. This would include individuals who are mentally or physically handicapped. Persons with special needs should sleep in a bedroom near someone who can help in the event of an emergency. A physically handicapped person may require a sleeping area on the ground floor. Designing a special escape plan will depend on the abilities of the person.

Exit Drills In The Home can help people to prepare for an emergency.
Most home fires begin between the hours of midnight and 6:00 am. This is a time when most people are least prepared. In the middle of the night, fire can be a disaster if you and your family are not familiar with how to escape during an emergency.

So, to protect yourself and your family, remember these tips:
  • Prepare a fire escape plan.
  • Install and maintain smoke detectors.
  • Practice Exit Drills In The Home regularly.
  • Examine your home for fire hazards and take steps to prevent a fire before it occurs.
Fire Extinguisher Ratings
Class A Extinguishers will put out fires in ordinary combustibles, such as wood and paper. The numerical rating for this class of fire extinguisher refers to the amount of water the fire extinguisher holds and the amount of fire it will extinguish.

Class B Extinguishers should be used on fires involving flammable liquids, such as grease, gasoline, oil, etc. The numerical rating for this class of fire extinguisher states the approximate number of square feet of a flammable liquid fire that a non-expert person can expect to extinguish.

Class C Extinguishers are suitable for use on electrically energized fires. This class of fire extinguishers does not have a numerical rating. The presence of the letter “C” indicates that the extinguishing agent is non-conductive.

Class D Extinguishers are designed for use on flammable metals and are often specific for the type of metal in question. There is no picture designator for Class D extinguishers. These extinguishers generally have no rating nor are they given a multi-purpose rating for use on other types of fires.
Multi-Class Ratings
Many extinguishers available today can be used on different types of fires and will be labeled with more than one designator, e.g. A-B, B-C, or A-B-C. Make sure that if you have a multi-purpose extinguisher it is properly labeled.
This is the old style of labeling indicating suitability for use on Class A, B, and C fires.
This is the new style of labeling that shows this extinguisher may be used on Ordinary Combustibles, Flammable Liquids, or Electrical Equipment fires. This is the new labeling style with a diagonal red line drawn through the picture to indicate what type of fire this extinguisher is NOT suitable for. In this example, the fire extinguisher could be used on Ordinary Combustibles and Flammable Liquids fires, but not for Electrical Equipment fires.

Types of Fire Extinguishers 
Dry Chemical extinguishers are usually rated for multiple purpose use. They contain an extinguishing agent and use a compressed, non-flammable gas as a propellant.

Halon extinguishers contain a gas that interrupts the chemical reaction that takes place when fuels burn. These types of extinguishers are often used to protect valuable electrical equipment since them leave no residue to clean up. Halon extinguishers have a limited range, usually 4 to 6 feet. The initial application of Halon should be made at the base of the fire, even after the flames have been extinguished.

Water  These extinguishers contain water and compressed gas and should only be used on Class A (ordinary combustibles) fires.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extinguishers are most effective on Class B and C (liquids and electrical) fires. Since the gas disperses quickly, these extinguishers are only effective from 3 to 8 feet. The carbon dioxide is stored as a compressed liquid in the extinguisher; as it expands, it cools the surrounding air. The cooling will often cause ice to form around the “horn” where the gas is expelled from the extinguisher. Since the fire could re-ignite, continue to apply the agent even after the fire appears to be o

How to Use a Fire Extinguisher

Even though extinguishers come in a number of shapes and sizes, they all operate in a similar manner.  Here's an easy acronym for fire extinguisher use:

P  A  S   S  --  Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep

Pull the pin at the top of the extinguisher that keeps the handle from being accidentally pressed.
   Aim the nozzle toward the base of the fire.
   Stand approximately 8 feet away from the fire and squeeze the handle to discharge the extinguisher. If you release the handle, the discharge will stop.
Sweep the nozzle back and forth at the base of the fire. After the fire appears to be out, watch it carefully since it may re-ignite!
Congratulations -- you did it!!!


Why do we need smoke detectors?
Smoke detectors can save your life and those of your family. Most fatal home fires occur at night, while people sleep. Fire produces toxic gases and smoke that actually numb the senses. If you're asleep, or become disoriented by toxic gases, you may not even realize that there is a fire. You can't rely on your own senses to detect a fire.

Is there proof that smoke detectors save lives?
Yes. Almost every day, news reports across the country tell of cases where smoke detectors have saved lives. In several instances, the battery-operated detectors were not mounted, but still alerted families to fire. Fire officials continually cite smoke detectors as life savers in home fires.

What do I look for when choosing a smoke detector?
Look for the following when selecting your home smoke detector.
  • It should display the marking of a recognized independent testing laboratory such as Underwriters Lab (UL) etc. and be listed and approved for sale, installation and home use.
  • It should have a warning signal that warns you when bulbs or batteries need replacing.
  • The batteries and bulb should be readily available for purchase and easy to replace.
  • The smoke detector's alarm must be loud enough (85 decibel or louder) to wake a sleeping person behind a closed door. Special detectors are available for hard of hearing persons.

Where should I install a smoke detector?
At the bare minimum, you should have one detector for each level in your home. A detector needs to be placed within 10 feet of sleeping areas, since most fire deaths occur at night while people are sleeping. The detector should be mounted on the ceiling or high on the wall -- six to twelve inches below the ceiling. It should never be placed in the dead-air space, such as where wall and ceiling meet or in a corner. Nor should it be placed near heating ducts or cold air returns. The air flow around these areas could prevent the smoke-filled air from collecting in the detector in sufficient amounts as to activate it. Avoid installing a detector near bathrooms with showers. Steam can sometimes cause false alarms and the moisture can rust metal components of the detector. Also avoid areas where nominal amounts of smoke may normally be present, such as kitchens or other cooking spaces, furnace rooms, or near fireplaces or wood-burning stoves. More information on home installation.

What about a heat detector?  Do I need one of those, too?
Heat detectors are no substitute for smoke detectors. They set off an alarm in response to heat only. They do add protection and can be helpful in basements, kitchens, attics and garages. But for life safety purposes be sure your home is protected by a smoke detector.

Should I test my smoke detector?  How often?
Every detector comes with testing instructions. Activating the testing mechanism once a month should be sufficient. Always test battery powered detectors after a vacation or having been away from home for a week or more. The battery may have gone dead and you may have missed its warning alarm. 

How should I care for a smoke detector?
Vacuum the detector once or twice a year to remove any dust or cobwebs. This will cut down on false alarms. Most battery powered smoke detectors will 'chirp' sporadically when the battery is weak. We recommend that batteries be changed once a year, perhaps a significant day -- your birthday, January 1st or when you change your clocks in the spring or fall.

Which is better -- battery-powered or AC-powered detectors?
It really is a matter of preference. They both have benefits and drawbacks. The key point to remember is that whichever model your choose, be sure to maintain it according to manufacturer's directions. Hard-wired detectors (AC-powered) are powered by the current in your house wires. This is appealing because you never have to worry about battery replacement. Multiple detectors can be wired together so that if a fire starts in the basement of a two story house, all the detectors will sound immediately. There can be a problem with hard-wired detectors, however. If there is a power failure due to storm, fire, etc., the detectors will not sound without electrical power. There are now AC powered units on the market with a battery backup. As an alternative, install a battery powered unit near each AC-powered unit. This dual power source method also provides additional detection!

I've heard that there are different types of smoke detectors?  Can you explain the differences?  Is one better than the other?
You are probably referring to ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors. Both types are approved by nationally recognized testing laboratories. Ionization models respond slightly faster to open flaming fires while photoelectric models respond faster to smoldering fires. Ideally, a home should be protected by at least one of each. If you can afford just one type of detector, a photoelectric is recommended. Photoelectric smoke detectors use either an incandescent light bulb or a light emitting diode (LED) to send forth a beam of light. When smoke enters the detector, light from the beam is reflected from the smoke particles into a photocell sensor and the alarm is triggered. The ionization chamber smoke detector has a small radiation source that produces radioactive material, electrically charged air molecules called ions. These ions cause a small electric current to flow in the chamber. Smoke particles entering the chamber attach themselves to the ions, reducing the electrical flow. The change in current sets off the alarm.

What should we do if the smoke detector sounds?
If a smoke detector is sounding, there is a reason! Never ignore the sound of a smoke detector! You and your family must be able to escape quickly and safely. Here are some steps your family can take:

  • Draw up and rehearse a fire evacuation plan from your house. See EDITH (Exit Drills In The Home) for more information.
  • Make sure each family member knows two ways to escape from any room in the house.
  • Always check the door to see if it is hot before opening it to escape.
  • If you must go through a smoke-filled area, crawl on your hands and knees. There will be less smoke and heat at floor level.
  • Make sure everyone knows the prearranged location outside of the house to meet. This way you can count noses and be sure everyone is safe.
  • Call 9-1-1 from a neighbour's house or the nearest phone outside of your house.
  • Never return to the inside of a burning building.
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