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Officials: Make sure to check smoke alarms

COVINGTON -- The theme of the 2010 campaign for Fire Prevention Week is "Smoke Alarms: A sound you can live with!" And, both the Newton County Fire Service and the Covington Fire Department are doing their part to remind citizens of the need for working, up-to-date smoke alarms.

"As a member of the fire service for 16 years, I have seen all too many times the devastation fire can incur on people and their homes," said NCFS Fire Safety Educator Lt. Cydnie Taylor. "Watching a household endure the loss of their most valued possessions is simply heartbreaking. But there's no greater horror than to witness a family suffer the aftermath of one or more loved ones who have perished in a fire."

Taylor said knowing that deaths might have been prevented adds to the tragedy.

"What's most tragic about so many of these incidents, and I must admit sometimes frustrating, is that the fatal outcomes often could have been prevented with the presence of properly installed, working smoke alarms."

Chief David Carter with the Covington Fire Department said the importance of smoke alarms in a home could not be over estimated.

"It's an early warning device that gives you time to escape from a fire," he said, adding that over the years the devices have become more efficient and lower in price.

Both the NCFS and the CFD are recipients of grants from the Centers for Disease Control and the Georgia Department of Health which makes it possible for them to offer free smoke detectors to those who can't afford them.

Carter said the grant specifically targets the elderly, but if there is someone else who can't afford an alarm, the fire department will furnish two alarms per home and see that they are installed.

The National Fire Prevention Association recommends that a smoke alarm be installed in all bedrooms and outside all sleeping areas and at least one on every level of the home, including the basement. It also recommends that smoke alarms be interconnected so that when one sounds, they all do.

"Unfortunately, many homes in Newton County, and in communities throughout the U.S., still do not have this level of protection," Taylor said.

Also, Taylor pointed out that most residents are not aware that there are two types of smoke alarms available that offer maximum protection.

"Ionization smoke alarms are generally more responsive to flaming fires -- like a pan fire or smoke from cooking," she explained. "Photoelectric smoke alarms are generally more responsive to smoldering fires -- like a cigarette, overheated wiring, or something hot like a space heater."

Taylor said both types can be installed, or there are alarms that have both technologies available.

NFPA offers the following safety tips for making sure smoke alarms are in good working order:

* Test smoke alarms at least once a month using the test button, and make sure everyone in your home knows their sound.

* If an alarm "chirps," warning the battery is low, replace the battery right away.

* Replace all smoke alarms, including alarms that use 10-year batteries and hard wired alarms, when they're 10 years old (or sooner) if they do not respond properly when tested.

For more information on fire safety, specific programs planned during the month of October or to inquire about receiving a smoke alarm, call the NCFS at 770-784-2116 or the CFD at 770-385-2100.

Although area fire departments are doing their part in educating and assisting the community in an effort to prevent fire, Taylor said they need cooperation from the public for it to be effective.

"True safety lies with Newton County citizens and their willingness to take the steps needed to protect their homes and families from fire," she said.