Smoke Alarms Vs. Carbon Monoxide Alarms

by | Archive, Guest Posts

Firefighter/EMT/Instructor Willie Jackson explains the functions and differences of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms.  Do you have both in your homes?  Read on for more.

Are smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms different?

The answer is they are very different. As we all know smoke alarms sense the presence of smoke particles related to fires. On the other hand, Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms do not detect smoke at all. The Silent Killer, as it is called, is a colorless, odorless, invisible gas created by fuels that are not completely burned. These fuels commonly include gasoline, methane, propane, natural gas, oil, wood, and coal. Most common occurrences involve cooking and heating equipment in the home and vehicles or generators running inside of garages. Other problems can exist with chimneys, dryers, grills (gas and charcoal), and anything that is designed to use vents.  CO displaces Oxygen in the blood cells causing headaches, dizziness, fatigue, confusion, and irritability. Prolonged exposure can lead to brain damage and death. CO alarms are designed to monitor air quality and alert occupants before symptoms and health problems occur.

There are two types of smoke alarms. Ionization smoke detection is designed to be more responsive to flaming fires that burn and consume combustible materials quickly. Photoelectric smoke detection is designed to be more responsive to smoldering, slow burning fires. Both types of smoke detection technology are available as separate alarms, or combined as a dual sensor alarm. It is the recommendation of NFPA that both technologies are used.

Like smoke alarms, you should have at least one CO alarm in your home, placed near sleeping areas. CO alarms can be a stand-alone unit or combined with smoke detection technology.  If the CO alarm sounds, you should exit the home and notify the fire department. The Fire Department can check air quality and determine and/or recommend the next action based on findings.

So, obviously there is a need for smoke AND carbon monoxide alarms. As there are several different types, I generally do not recommend a particular alarm or brand over another, however it is recommended that alarms are tested and approved by UL or FM global and marked as such on the product. Which alarms you decide to purchase is up to you. As always, follow the instructions on operation and installation as this may vary by manufacturer.

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Jessie -

Just a small town girl married to a firefighter since 2008, but she's so much more than a Fire Wife. She's been a member of the FirefighterWife family since 2012 and knows marriage takes a lot of work, even when it's in the best seasons.


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