Smoke alarms suitable for children

Sleeping Child Researchers at Dundee University have worked hard to develop a smoke alarm with a low pitch alarm sound and a voice message that helps to wake up children if there is a fire at night. The most successful alarm version, the researchers found, was a combined low pitch sound followed by a female voice saying ‘Wake up, the house is on fire’. A laudable project and the fruit of it will hopefully help families in the future to improve the safety of their children.

While we are greeting this development as an important break-through, we analysed the issue at hand a bit further.

Having early notification of a fire is only one element to ensure you and your children have the best chance of surviving a house fire. Teaching your children, including very young ones, what to do on hearing the alarm will prevent them from panicking and from walking out of their bedroom into a potentially dangerous situation.

You may decide that the best route of action is for your child to stay in their bedrooms and to wait for you there or for them to make their way to your room ready to evacuate. No matter what your course of action, it is imperative that children have been given clear instructions and that the fire drill is practiced.

It is essential that both parents and children get notified of a fire immediately. The best way to achieve this is to have the smoke alarms interlinked throughout the house. So, if a smoke alarm is triggered in a child’s bedroom or anywhere else in the house, the alarm would not only be raised in the bedroom of the child but also in the parents’ bedroom. Interlinking gives the maximum warning time to the parents even if, for example, a fire starts in the downstairs kitchen. This is crucial when every second counts.

Interlinking can be achieved in a traditional way with wires spanning from alarm to alarm, however, easier options are now available with battery powered radio-interlinked smoke alarms being a simple-to-install solution.

Whilst we wait for this new smoke alarm to progress through the developmental stages we should make sure that our own current fire safety precautions and evacuation plans are reviewed and where possible improved upon.

For further advice about fire safety in the home you can visit our fire prevention page.

Hushing Interlinked Smoke Alarms

Interlinked smoke alarms are becoming more and more popular as they quickly alert you to the event of a fire across larger houses, where there is a risk that you might not hear an alarm going off in the kitchen when you are, for example, in a bedroom upstairs.

Whether connected to each other with wire or wirelessly interlinked through radio frequency, interlinked smoke alarms allow you to connect multiple units – including different types of detectors – which will all sound at the same time when a single alarm detects a potential fire. The heat alarm in the kitchen, the ionisation alarm in your home office, and the specialist strobe and vibration alarm in your elderly parents’ bedroom, for example, will all go off at the same time, if just one alarm is triggered by fire.

Most of us are familiar with the test button on smoke alarms which allows residents to test their alarms regularly, to ensure the components are working and the power supply, whether battery or mains power, is working. On top of this, however, many alarms have a “hush” button which allows you to silence an alarm that has gone off, for example, due to burnt toast.

So how do hush buttons work when you have several interlinked alarms?

It’s easy to assume that, as they are all connected, hushing one alarm will silence all of them, but it is equally logical that only the unit on which you pressed the hush button should be silenced – after all, you don’t want people to assume it was a false alarm if there really is a fire raging downstairs.

Interestingly, not all interconnecting smoke alarms hush in the same way. Here is an overview explaining the different approaches employed by the three main smoke alarm manufacturers in the UK.

Kidde Slick Wireless Smoke and Heat AlarmsFor Kidde smoke alarms, the originating alarm (the unit which detected a potential fire and triggered all of your units) will have its warning light flash faster than all other units while the alarm is sounding – enabling you to identify the smoke alarm that caused the alarm. Pressing the hush button on ANY unit will silence the ENTIRE network.

Ei160e Series Smoke and Heat AlarmsIf you have interlinking Ei Electronics smoke alarms, only the originating unit’s hush button will be able to silence the ENTIRE network. The other units in the circuit can be individually silenced. To identify the originating unit you need to look for the alarm whose warning light is flashing every second, compared to every 40 or so seconds on the other units.

FireAngel WST600 Series Radio-Interlinked Smoke and Heat AlarmsFireAngel smoke alarms, however, deploy an improved silencing protocol. If you hush the originating smoke alarm then, as with the other brands, ALL connected units will be silenced. However, if you hush any other unit, the ORIGINATING alarm will continue to sound but ALL OTHER units will be silenced. This allows you to quickly identify the originating alarm which is very helpful both in case of a false alarm or a real emergency.

If you require support selecting the best smoke alarm system for yourself, please contact the friendly Safelincs support team either by emailing support@safelincs.co.uk or by ringing 0800 612 6537

Keeping property guardians safe

home-safety-kitRising rents are forcing many people in the UK to consider other options – such as becoming property guardians. They move into abandoned homes, maybe for a month, maybe for years. From the owner’s point of view, an occupied building is less likely to be burgled or destroyed; the guardians obtain low-cost accommodation.

Safelincs works with a property management company that specialises in bringing together owners and potential guardians. There are thousands of empty properties in the UK, including flats, houses, churches, libraries and offices. They may be empty for many reasons – waiting to be sold, waiting for planning permission, or needing to be looked after while the owners are overseas. The property management company puts these buildings back into use, helping both the property owner and people looking for short term, low-cost accommodation.

For some time, Safelincs has been providing bespoke fire safety equipment kits which the company issued to its live-in guardians. These consisted of a fire blanket, a fire extinguisher, a first aid kit, smoke alarms, a CO alarm, a wind-up torch and a bespoke fire action sign. The company recently decided to take its fire safety provisions to an even higher level and approached Safelincs to work out a solution.

Risk assessments are now carried out on all properties where guardians are being installed. This assessment identifies the fire safety equipment required for each individual property. Safelincs then supplies the appropriate fire safety services and equipment including fire extinguishers, appropriate signage, smoke and CO alarms (usually radio-interlinked), door closers, fire door accessories and other fire safety equipment. By working with Safelincs, the company is able to create a more bespoke fire safety plan for each property.

Safelincs provide sensible and practical advice for the safety equipment required at each location. Its role has become more that of a strategic partner than simply a supplier.

What causes “chirping” and false alarms in smoke alarms?

hoovering-alarmIf your smoke or heat alarm has started its low battery “chirp” in the middle of the night or alarmed falsely with no obvious reason, unfortunately, many people lose faith in their alarms, seeing them as an annoyance rather than essential life saving devices.
False alarms and chirping are often pointing at problems that require attention. There are a number of checks that can be done to help find the cause before seeking further help from the manufacturer or retailer. Below is a step-by-step guide to the possible causes and solutions for false alarms and chirping; however, always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for your exact smoke or heat alarm model. Additional care should be taken with mains powered alarms, as interference with the alarm can cause electrocution.

1) “Correct” alarm for the “correct” area
There are three main types of domestic alarms available on the market:

Ionisation Smoke Alarms – Slightly quicker at detecting fast flaming fires than other technologies but usually only installed in upstairs landing areas. If installed near a kitchen, where the occasional toast might get burned, ionisation alarms can cause false alarms. The installation of this alarm near sources of smoke is one of the key reasons for false alarms in daytime.

Optical Smoke Alarms – Slightly quicker at detecting slow smouldering fires that can originate from upholstery type materials and over-heated wiring. Suitable to be installed in bedrooms, living rooms and downstairs hallways. These are fairly ‘toast-proof’ and can be installed near kitchens (not in kitchens, though).

Heat Alarms – Activate when the temperature inside the room reaches a certain trigger level or if the heat in a room rises very quickly. These are ideal in kitchens and garages, as they do not get triggered by fumes. Please note that a heat alarm only covers a small area, so larger kitchens will require several heat alarms.

All types of alarm will sound in the event of a fire; however, understanding more about each sensor technology helps you to select units that are least likely to cause false alarms. Alarms placed in the wrong location will on the other hand cause false alarms, eg if you have a smoke alarm located in the hallway and this sounds each time you use the toaster or boil vegetables, it is likely that you have an ionisation smoke alarm installed rather than an optical.

2) Optimum position
The user manual for your smoke or heat alarm will provide advice on “locations to avoid” when positioning your alarm on the ceiling. Below are some examples:
– Near fluorescent lights – as electronic “noise” can cause false alarms
– In front of air supply ducts for heating or air conditioning, or near ceiling fans
– Directly above cookers/toasters/kettles (heat alarm) – although heat alarms are designed not to cause false alarms from cooking fumes, they should not be installed directly above cooking appliances
– Within 0.9m (3ft) of the door to a bathroom or shower room (smoke alarm) – steam can cause false alarms

3) Dust and/or Insects
Smoke alarms contain a sensor which is used to detect a fire. Over time, dust can build up or small insects/flies can crawl inside the unit, obstruct the sensor and eventually cause false alarms. Cleaning your alarm helps to remove anything that could be blocking the sensor. Wipe the outside of the alarm with a damp cloth, then using a vacuum nozzle or a hair dryer (set on cold), to suck or blow through the openings of the alarm.

4) Decorating
If decorating, especially sanding, has recently taken place, dust particles or paint fumes could have entered the sensor chamber, causing damage to the unit and therefore causing false alarms. It is recommended to temporarily cover the alarm whilst decorating. Some alarms are supplied with a protective cover, so keep hold of this after installation for any future use. If you suspect decorating may have affected your alarm, try cleaning the unit as described above.

5) Temperature
Smoke alarms have an optimum operating temperature and it is important to ensure that your alarm is not subjected to temperatures above or below these thresholds. Typically, the operating temperature for a smoke alarm is between 0 ˚C to +40 ˚C. If the alarm is positioned where it may experience blasts of hot or cold air e.g. close to a front door, or the ambient room temperature is not constant e.g. in attics, this is when false alarms can occur. It may be necessary to reposition your alarm.

6) Age of the alarm
Each smoke and heat alarm should have a sticker located on the edge or the back of the unit indicating a replace-by date. This is usually ten years after manufacture. If your alarm starts chirping or regularly sounds falsely, it could mean that the alarm is close to, or has reached the end of its life. Check the date to see if the alarm is due to be replaced.

7) Problem with the mains supply?
Mains powered smoke alarms can usually be identified by two LEDs located on the face of the unit. One LED flashes red approximately once a minute to indicate that the unit is operating correctly. The second LED should be constantly green to indicate that mains power is present. If the green LED is not present, this could mean that there is an issue with the mains power getting to the alarm. If needed, advice should be obtained by a qualified electrician.

8) Battery running low
Chirping every 30-40 seconds is generally an indication that the battery is running low. If your smoke or heat alarm has a replaceable battery, try changing the battery for a brandnew one. It is recommended to change the batteries in your smoke and heat alarms every 12 months. Changing your battery before it runs low helps to overcome the annoying chirps at night. Change the batteries when the clocks are changed forward or register for a free email reminder service.

Many smoke and heat alarms are now fitted with a sealed lithium battery, designed to last the life of the alarm. These batteries are not accessible for replacement and so if your alarm starts chirping but has a non-replaceable battery, the alarm may have reached the end of its life. Batteries running low apply to both solely battery powered alarms as well as mains powered units with a back-up battery.

9) Another alarm nearby?
If you have tried all the above and you can still hear chirping, the final check is to see if there is another alarm or device within the same area that could be causing the chirp. It is easy to associate chirping with smoke and heat alarms and forget that other devices e.g. carbon monoxide detectors could also contain a battery that is running low.

Safelincs are happy to provide information regarding your smoke and heat alarms. For more information, you can also visit our Smoke Alarm Help Guides page, or contact our customer services team.

New focus of Fire Kills campaign

fireangel-pro-smoke-alarmIn a continuing drive to remind people to test their smoke alarms, the government agency, Fire Kills, is introducing a brand new style of advertising.

The previous ‘doom and gloom’ approach which focussed on fire related tragedies is being replaced by a more positive tone. The new adverts will feature ‘talking’ smoke alarms being friendly and helpful. Insight had shown that people tend to dislike their smoke alarms – “they only go off when I cook toast” or “the low battery warning goes off at 3am”.

Under the banner ‘Unsung Heroes’, the campaign is a very different approach for Fire Kills as it moves away from fear to imagery that focuses directly on the smoke alarms. It is hoped that presenting smoke alarms as characters that are capable of expressing emotion and creating personalities for them allows people to relate to them.

Fire Kills’ most recent strategy had been to link to the clock change, encouraging people to test their alarms while they move their clocks forward or back an hour – encouraging this behaviour by demonstrating the dreadful consequences that not having working smoke alarms can bring. However, changing clocks is less of a hook as timepieces increasingly change automatically and it was noted that even the weather forecasters do not always remind us now. Hence people need reminding to test their smoke alarms and Fire Kills now wants to promote more regular (monthly) rather than twice-yearly testing.

Radio advertising will be the lead channel and will broadcast on Capital, Heart and Smooth radio networks from 11 January to 7 February 2016. Three press adverts will appear in the Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Guardian and Daily Telegraph from 11 January 2016 to 6 February 2016.

In addition Fire Kills will be trialling ‘Out of Home’ advertising with this new campaign including some large format digital advertising in seven locations across the country (Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Portsmouth). It will also be supporting the large format digital activity with bus stop posters in pilot areas. These locations will be selected following analysis of campaign awareness levels and casualty data.

Safelincs has been supporting Fire Kills initiative to increase smoke alarm testing for a number of years and offers a free reminder service with tweet or email notifications.

Launch of new FireAngel website

FireAngel WebsiteSafelincs has launched a website dedicated to the sale of FireAngel fire and carbon monoxide detection products; this follows the signing of a two year contract between Safelincs and Sprue Safety Products, the company behind FireAngel, in July 2015. Sprue and their FireAngel alarms have long been on the forefront of design and technology, a fact which is recognised by a large number of fire services which install and recommend FireAngel products. Included in the range is a selection of high tech smoke alarms, applying technologies such as Thermoptek and Thermistek fire detection, which cut down the number of false alarms from smoke and heat detectors. FireAngel also offers a large number of carbon monoxide detectors, including sealed ten year CO alarms, offering total peace of mind.

As part of the contract Safelincs will also promote and sell First Alert, BRK and FireEye smoke and CO alarms, all part of Sprue’s significant alarm portfolio.

Safelincs’ Managing Director, Harry Dewick-Eisele, commented: ‘I am very pleased to be working together with the UK’s most advanced smoke and CO alarm developers. Sprue’s products bring together customer focus and functionality expressed in beautiful design combined with technology which pushes the edges of protection equipment further. Together, we should be able to increase both Sprue’s and Safelincs’ market share to even higher levels.’

Chimney Fire Safety Week 2015

chimneyOver 7000 emergencies attended by the fire brigade during 2013/14 were classified as chimney fires in the annual fire statistics report. Poor chimney maintenance is a known cause of domestic fires, most chimney fires are preventable.

Chimney Fire Safety Week 2015 takes place from the 7th until the 13th of September this year. The event is intended to highlight the causes of chimney fires and emphasise how to prevent a chimney fire from occurring in the first place. The most common causes of chimney fires are inappropriately sized or poorly installed appliances, blocked chimneys from soot or bird nests and the burning of unseasoned or wet wood.

The best way to protect your home is to have your chimney swept regularly. The Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps recommends that people burning wood or coal on a regular basis should have their chimney swept quarterly, whereas those burning smokeless fuel, oil or gas should aim to have their chimneys swept at least once a year.

Infrequent sweeping of your chimney significantly increases the risk of a fire, and the consequences can be devastating and costly. Even a successfully extinguished chimney fire creates a great deal of mess and is a traumatic experience.

Whilst having your chimney swept regularly will greatly reduce the risk of fire, it is still important to have a means of alerting your family in case fire strikes. Chimney fires are often reported as creating a disconcerting low rumbling noise accompanied by cracking and popping from within the chimney. If you are awake, these signs are often enough to alert you to the problem, but if you are asleep, your family are much more vulnerable.

An interconnected system of smoke alarms will quickly detect any smoke released as a result of the chimney fire and raise the alarm across your entire household. Speed of detection is key, as a swift escape and notification of the fire brigade will greatly reduce the danger to your family and damage to your property.

Your regular chimney maintenance and smoke detection system should also be supplemented by a carbon monoxide detector. Poisonous carbon monoxide (CO) is created by the incomplete combustion of fuels such as wood, coal & oil. If working properly, your chimney will draw the carbon monoxide away with the smoke. However, if your chimney is partially blocked, carbon monoxide can seep out into your home rather than being drawn away. Carbon monoxide cannot be tasted or smelled and has dangerous health implications, leading to many deaths every year in the UK.

A house fire as a consequence of a poorly maintained chimney is a terrible thought, and should be enough to motivate anyone to take steps to protect their home from the risk. Having your chimney swept regularly, ensuring your smoke alarm system is in good order, and installing a carbon monoxide detector will ensure that you are giving your family the best possible chance of avoiding the dangers and trauma of a chimney fire.

For further information contact our customer support team via support@safelincs.co.uk

Do your children know what to do in the event of a fire?

Child Accident Prevention TrustSafelincs is engaging with Child Safety Week- an annual initiative promoted by the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT). This year’s event runs from 1st of June 2015 and is intended to raise awareness of general safety issues relating to children.

The organisers, CAPT, praise the event as a time when “an incredible range of professions and organisations, as well as families, carers and the media all do their bit to keep children safe from the pain of serious accidents.” They also proudly report that three quarters of parents engaging with Child Safety Week believe they have learnt something new, or plan to do something differently as a result of awareness gained from the campaign.

Safelincs’ field of expertise is fire safety. As such we would pose the question- do your children know what to do in the event of a fire? Nobody expects to be caught in a fire, and complacency can easily set in. If you have discussed fire safety with your children in the past, would they still remember that conversation in the event of an emergency?

You should always ensure your children recognise the sound of your smoke alarms, and that you have a family evacuation plan in place. Identify the safest route to escape from your property, and then consider what you would do if this route was blocked. Identifying a secondary escape route is incredibly important as fire is unpredictable.

Practice makes perfect, so once you have a plan run through it until you are sure everyone knows what to do. Also make sure to practice evacuation at night as well as during the day- fire can strike at any time.

Perhaps most importantly, test your smoke alarms. If your smoke alarms fail to sound in the event of a fire, all of your preparation has been in vain. Most fire related deaths are caused by smoke inhalation rather than exposure to flames, with children being especially vulnerable. Raising the alarm quickly is absolutely vital. Make sure yours are working with regular tests.

We hope you will take our advice on board in the spirit of Child Safety Week. It is all too easy to panic when faced with an emergency. Take just a few minutes this week to familiarise your family with an escape plan.

Safelincs support CAPT; we donate £1 for a range of CO alarms sold.

Keeping holidaymakers safe for ten years

villa-plusIt’s nearly ten years since Safelincs first started working with Villa Plus, a company providing over 1,250 holiday villas across 14 European destinations. Safelincs is depended upon to ensure that all Villa Plus’ accommodations are equipped with the necessary safety equipment.

Fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms and domestic first aid kits are sent by Safelincs to a shipping company in the UK for distribution to Villa Plus properties around Europe. The goods are packaged separately in line with each region’s requirement and labelled accordingly.

“Safelincs extensive range of safety products and their ability to meet our specific shipping requirements to different regions makes them an ideal partner to work with. As we grow and launch villas in new and existing destinations Safelincs will be a valuable provider,” says Nick Cooper, Villa Plus director and founder.

Harry Dewick- Eisele, managing director, Safelincs commented: “We pride ourselves on putting customers’ first. Building long-term relationships with organisations such as Villa Plus is a clear indication that our priorities are correct.”

New fire safety legislation for landlords

landlord-offerIn a move to increase the safety of tenants in rented accommodation, a new law will require landlords to provide smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

The legislation, which is due to come into force in October 2015, is estimated to help prevent up to 26 deaths and 670 injuries a year. It will require landlords to ensure that a smoke alarm is installed on each storey of a premises on which there is a room used wholly or partly as living accommodation. This would bring private rented properties into line with existing building regulations that already require newly-built homes to have hard-wired smoke alarms installed.

In addition carbon monoxide alarms must be fitted in any room which is used as living accommodation and contains a solid fuel-burning appliance. Prior to any new tenancy beginning the landlord will be required to ensure that each alarm is in proper working order.
Testing regularly will remain the tenant’s responsibility.

Those who fail to install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms will face sanctions and could face a civic penalty of up to £5,000.

To ensure that smoke alarms are in a good working order and do not have their batteries removed by tenants it is best to install sealed longlife smoke alarms. Safelincs also offers sealed longlife CO alarms, again assuring landlords the safe longterm protection of their tenants.