Wednesday, October 3, 2012
I was just ranting about smoke detectors at my book club last week (what else would you talk about at book club?), complaining that they are way too sensitive, actually desensitizing us to alarms and forcing (some of) us to do unsafe things like take the batteries out to prevent the alarm from going off every time we turn the oven on. Or dismantling it when that, inexplicably, doesn't stop the incessant beeping.
So my ears perked up when I heard my friend Jeff say on the Today Show this morning, "We've all been there. You burn toast in your house and suddenly your smoke alarm goes off, so you assume it's ultra sensitive, but experts say think again." YES I have been there! WHAT?? Tell me more!
It turns out the most common type of smoke detectors -- those using ionization technology -- aren't so great at detecting smoke from burning furniture, as opposed to smoke from burning food, which they seem to be a little too good at.
Rossen goes on to tell the heartbreaking story of a woman who lost four of her children to smoke inhalation because her ionization alarms -- the kind used in 90% of homes -- never went off.
When tested, three ionization alarms take over half an hour to go off in a room that is filled with toxic smoke. Apparently ionization alarms can detect fires with fast flames (and are awesome at detecting burnt toast!), but experts say some of the most deadly fires start slower.
But Rossen finds us an alternative! A second test reveals that an alarm using photoelectric technology goes off in 17 minutes, when there is barely any smoke in the room. Although photoelectric technology has been around for a while, those alarms are more expensive to produce, and the cheaper ionization alarms meet government safety regulations.
How can that be?? Of course we can count on Rossen to go straight to the source. Unfortunately, it's evident from his awkward interview with a senior engineer at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which could very well be mistaken for a Daily Show skit, that the government agency that's supposed to rectify Corporate America's faulty conscience actually doesn't give a crap.
Well thank goodness for the Today Show and Jeff Rossen, right?! If he wasn't so riveting I may have actually left for work on time and missed his closing advice to install both types of alarms (was hoping I'd get to go Office Space on my ionization alarm), or splurge on a "dual detector" that employs both technologies. Let's just hope the pricier models at least know the difference between a fire and a dirty oven, or I'm asking my friend for a follow-up investigation.