The Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released a report that stated that today's home smoke alarms--both ionization and photoelectric types--consistently provide enough time for people to escape most fires. It stressed the need for immediate response to an activated alarm and showed that individuals caught in a flaming fire (as opposed to a smoldering fire) have an average of three minutes from the alarm's first warning to escape.
"The three-minute escape window for flaming fires differs from the 17 minutes NIST recorded in its seminal smoke alarm tests in the 1970s," said Richard Bukowski, the NIST researcher who conducted the study. "It confirms what fire scientists have recognized for some time: fires today seem to burn faster and kill quicker because the contents of modern homes (such as furnishings) can burn faster and more intensely. Our new research, however, proves that even with a three-minute warning, smoke alarms still offer enough time to save your life," Bukowski stressed. "When the alarm sounds, it is important that everyone just get out of the house."
NIST found that ionization smoke detectors activate quicker for flaming fires than photoelectric alarms. Photoelectric alarms, on the other hand, often provide faster response time to smoldering fires. Placement of either type on every level of the house would save lives. The tests also showed how closed bedroom doors and proper placement of smoke alarms improved prospects for survival. In both cases, time to escape untenable conditions increased, providing the individual was not in the room where the fire originated.
The study was sponsored and supported with in-kind contributions by eight federal and non-profit agencies.
To download the full report, visit smokealarm.nist.gov.