Recipe for Success: Oct. 3-9 is National Fire Prevention Week (FPW)

FPW 2021: “Learn the Sounds of Fire Safety”

Smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms. We take them for granted far too frequently--after all, no news is good news coming from them, right? We assume that they are like little "E.F. Huttons"...when they speak, we listen and know what to do.  In truth, though, the answer is a bit more complicated. Smoke and CO detectors have a language of their own, and they need regular checks and maintenance to make sure they can "chat" with you when it's most important.

This year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign, “Learn the Sounds of Fire Safety!” works to educate everyone about the importance of having working smoke and CO detectors in the home, and to help you understand the different sounds the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms make.

Detector FAQ

What's the difference between the two alarms? Do you really need both? The answer is, in short, yes. 

According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), in the event of fire, you may have as little as two minutes to escape safely. Because smoke detectors can sense smoke long before we can, they are essential to alerting us to danger. They should be placed in every bedroom, outside of the sleeping areas (like a hallway), and on each level (including the basement). Smoke alarms should not be placed in your kitchen or bathroom (where they could be erroneously triggered). 

When looking for a smoke detector, you can choose one that has replaceable batteries you swap out every year, or a 10-year unit that lasts for a decade, and then needs to be replaced. Both provide protection, provided you choose an alarm that is listed with a testing laboratory, meaning it has met certain standards for protection.

Carbon monoxide detectors are not looking for smoke, but rather CO--an odorless, colorless gas that displaces oxygen in your body and brain. Because it is not something we can detect with our own senses, CO can render you unconscious before you even realize something is wrong. Unconscious, and without oxygen, you are at risk of death from carbon monoxide poisoning in a short time. CO alarms throughout the home and garage detect the presence of this gas and alert you so you can get out, call 9-1-1, and let the professionals check your home.

As you would with a smoke alarm, be sure to choose a CO detectors that is listed with a testing laboratory. Also make sure to select a unit with a battery backup if it is an outlet or hardwired unit.

According to the NFPA, some of the best protection comes if you use combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarms that are interconnected throughout the home. These can be installed by a qualified electrician, so that when one sounds, they all sound. This ensures you can hear the alarm no matter where in your home the alarm originates.

What's That Sound?

Knowing what the different alarms mean, and what actions you should take when you hear it to do when an alarm can help keep you and your family safe.  

“What do the sounds mean? Is there a beep or a chirp coming out of your smoke or carbon monoxide alarm? Knowing the difference can save you, your home, and your family,” said Lorraine Carli, vice-president of outreach and advocacy at NFPA. 

“It’s important to learn the different sounds of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. What is a 'beep'; what is a 'chirp'? What do the sounds mean? When an alarm makes noise—a beeping sound or a chirping sound—action is needed.” says Carli. 

But what action do you need to take for which sounds? Do you know what to do and when? “Make sure everyone in the home understands the sounds of the alarms and knows how to respond," says Carli. "Knowing the difference [in the sounds] can save you, your home, and your family," she continues. "To learn the sounds of your specific smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, check the manufacturer’s instructions that came in the box, or search the brand and model online.”

You may ask, “What if someone in my home is deaf or hard of hearing? How will they know if an alarm is sounding?” For deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, there are smoke alarms and alert devices that include other notifications, such as strobe lights that flash to alert people when the smoke alarm sounds, says the NFPA. Pillow or bed shakers designed to work with your smoke alarm also can be purchased and installed. The NFPA has a great resource sheet to learn more about fire safety for the deaf and hard of hearing.

This year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign, “Learn the Sounds of Safety” works to educate everyone about the simple but important actions they can take to keep themselves, and those around them, safe  The NFPA and FPW offer these tips to help: 

🔥  A continuous set of three loud beeps—beep, beep, beep—means smoke or fire. Get out, call 9-1-1, and stay out.

🔥  A single chirp every 30 or 60 seconds means the battery is low and must be changed.

🔥  All smoke alarms must be replaced after 10 years.

🔥  Chirping that continues after the battery has been replaced means the alarm is at the end of its life and the unit must be replaced.

🔥  Make sure your smoke and CO alarms meet the needs of all your family members, including those with sensory or physical disabilities.

Download and print our FPW 2021 infographic below for a quick guide to smoke and CO detector safety. Then, read on for additional tips from the NFPA on fire safety for your home and family.

Be Safe and Smart: Additional Tips

According to NFPA statistics, in 2017 U.S. fire departments responded to 357,000 home structure fires. These fires caused 2,630 fire deaths and 10,600 fire injuries. On average, seven people died in a fire in a home per day during 2012 to 2016. In fact, the majority of U.S. fire deaths (four out of five) occur at home each year, and the fire death rate (per 1000 home fires reported to the fire department) was 10 percent higher in 2016 than in 1980. 

“These numbers show that home fires continue to pose a significant threat to safety,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of Outreach and Advocacy. “In a typical home fire, you may have as little as one to two minutes to escape safely from the time the smoke alarm sounds. Escape planning and practice can help you make the most of the time you have, giving everyone enough time to get out.”

A fire at home can start for many reasons—candles, cooking, electrical issues, heating, and smoking materials—to name a few. Because the causes are myriad, practicing fire prevention can keep you and your family safe. Fire Prevention Week is the perfect time to brush up on prevention tactics and prepare your family in case disaster strikes. 

Here are a few additional tips to consider during this very important home safety week—and all year long.

5 First and Foremosts

1. First and foremost, install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area, and on every level of your home – including the basement. Three out of five home fire fatalities happen in homes with no or non-working smoke alarms.

2. Next, identify potential fire hazards. Do you have frayed or exposed electrical wires? Are space heaters located near curtains or other flammable materials? Fix what you can and know where other potential dangers lie.

3. Install fire safety windows and doors. If that is not an option, use fire retardant products to fire proof windows and doors. This slows down the fire and helps prevent it from spreading.

4. Plan and practice an escape route. Determine at least two ways to escape from your home and select a location outside for everyone to meet. Also, plan what to do with family pets and know who to call for emergency assistance.

5. Many children are not aware of potential fire hazards. Check out these fire prevention tips for kids to ensure proper fire safety and prevention is practiced by the entire family.

Remember the 3 L's

🔥“LOOK” for places fire could start. Take a good look around your home. Identify potential fire hazards and take care of them.

🔥 “LISTEN” for the sound of the smoke alarm. You could have only minutes to escape safely once the smoke alarm sounds. Go to your outside meeting place, which should be a safe distance from the home and where everyone should know to meet.

🔥“LEARN” two ways out of every room and make sure all doors and windows leading outside open easily and are free of clutter.

Develop an Escape Plan

A home escape plan includes working smoke alarms on every level of the home, in every bedroom, and near all sleeping areas. It also includes two ways out of every room, usually a door and a window, with a clear path to an outside meeting place (like a tree, light pole, or mailbox) that’s a safe distance from the home. 

Why should a solid fire escape plan be the cornerstone of your family’s home safety toolkit? Consider:

🔥  Home escape planning and practice ensure that everyone knows what to do in a fire and is prepared to escape quickly and safely.

🔥  Today’s homes burn faster than ever. You may have as little as two minutes to escape safely from the time the smoke alarm sounds.

🔥  When the smoke alarm sounds in a real fire, it’s too late to start making a plan.

Ready to get started? Visit the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) website and download their handy home escape plan grid. The planning grid is also available in Spanish

NFPA offers these additional tips and recommendations for developing and practicing a home escape plan:

🔥  Draw a map of your home with all members of your household, marking two exits from each room and a path to the outside from each exit.

🔥  Practice your home fire drill twice a year. Conduct one at night and one during the day with everyone in your home, and practice using different ways out.

🔥  Teach children how to escape on their own in case you can’t help them.

🔥  Make sure the number of your home is clearly marked and easy for the fire department to find.

🔥  Close doors behind you as you leave — this may slow the spread of smoke, heat, and fire.

🔥  Once you get outside, stay outside. Never go back inside a burning building.

The National Fire Protection Association is the official sponsor of Fire Prevention Week, which is held every year the week of October 9 (the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire). To learn more about this year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign, "Learn the Sounds of Fire Safety", and find other home fire safety tips, visit

Downloads, graphics, and statistics courtesy of and press release content reproduced from NFPA’s website, © NFPA.


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