WKYT Investigates: Smoke alarms put to the test

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Smoke detectors save lives, plain and simple. They can give you precious seconds when time matters most

"In a fire every minute counts," states Lt. Keith Smith of the Lexington Fire Department.

There are so many types to choose from, and selecting an alarm may not be so clear. There are types that are photoelectric or ionized or even a combination of the two, and price definitely varies.

"The ionization detector, it's small and inexpensive, anywhere from $5 up," described Lt. Smith, adding, "the photoelectric they [manufactures] are saying it will detect a hotter fire, quicker."

The ionization can be found as cheap as $4.44, the photoelectric is roughly three times the price at $12.97, and a dual detector with both sensors is roughly $23 and some cost more.

"Do they work the same?" may be your next question. Viral videos online try to say that one is better than another, but the Lexington Fire Department feels that there are larger flaws in some of these tests.

So these fire fighters do what they do best, and put the alarms to the test.

"What we're trying to do today, is to distinguish between the smoke detectors. How they activate to certain types of fire," said Lt. Smith at the Fire Departments training site.

The fire fighters set up each type of detector: a photoelectric, an ionization, a dual photoelectric-ionization detector, and a carbon monoxide alarm for an added measure. All of the detectors except for the ionization had red lights that would trip when the alarm sounded, helping the fire fighters track which of the four went off, and in what order.

Roughly ten feet away from the alarms, the fire fighters safely set a couch cushion on fire, keeping the flames low and allowing the fire to smolder.
Less than a minute into the test the dual detector went off.

"At approximately 40 seconds, the dual alarm [sounded] and you can see the fire itself wasn't going for very long," pointed out Lt. Smith during the exercise.

A quick 45 seconds later, the cheaper ionization detector chimed in, then the carbon monoxide detector, followed by the photoelectric alarm tripped almost three minutes into the test.

"What little smoke you saw, [and with] what little smoke we had, these things obviously did their job," concluded Lt. Smith.

However, like any good test, they tried again to compare the results. The fire fighters even rotated the alarms to allow the detectors further away to be closer to the source, and yet they went off in the same order.

"The dual detector, obviously, is the "Cadillac" [of detectors]. It went off first every single time, but not every one can afford that," described Battalion Chief Ed Davis, "The other detector, which is a step down and about a quarter of the price went off within 15 or 30 seconds of that [the duel detector] So in my mind, it's just as good as the other one."

After the test, these fire fighters say regardless of whether you spring for the more expensive alarm or go for the cheaper option; the important thing is to have a smoke detector in your house. The even recommend that you also mount a carbon monoxide detector, as well.

"So far as to say the Ionization [detector] is junk, it is not," said Lt. Smith, "I'd much rather see somebody with an Ionization detector in their home versus nothing."

The products are so effective that these fire fighters live by the product, literally.

"If I thought that there was a reason not to put one of those [Ionization] up, I would not have them hanging in my home," said Battalion Chief Davis.

So in a life-and-death situation, when seconds matter most there is a difference.

The Lexington Fire Department offers a free safety survey where they will come to your home and offer tips to improve your safety, for more information call 859-231-5668.

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