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'Wings,' '20/20' put spotlight on smoke detection

smoke detection by Jeff Switzer
The last two season finales of the television program Wings (in which houses burned down and no smoke alarms went off) and a recent episode of ABC's news program 20/20 have brought the issue of smoke detectors to the forefront of the American mind.
   20/20 discussed the differences between ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors and recommended that one of each kind of smoke detector be installed in rooms throughout the house. The show also said people should vacuum their detectors monthly to keep them dust-free.
   According to a recent survey by the fire department, 98 percent of Woodinville residents have smoke detectors; however, the newest push is to have one in each sleeping room of the home, as 80 percent of all fire deaths occur in residences not equipped with working smoke detectors.
   Last year, there were 6,000 deaths, 100,000 people injured, and more than $7 billion in property damage attributed to fires.
   "Smoke detectors can provide early warnings for fires and allow time for family members to escape and firefighters to arrive before the fire grows," said Dave Leggett, public fire educator for the Woodinville Fire and Life Safety District.
   As recommended by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC): Ionization detectors vs. photoelectric detectors
   Ionization detectors monitor ions (electrically charged particles) and are activated when the electrical balance in the sensing chamber reaches a pre-set level.
   Photoelectric detectors use a beam of light in the sensing chamber which is activated when the smoke density reaches a pre-set level.
   According to the IAFC, while ion detectors respond faster to small smoke particles (produced by fast-flaming fires), the photoelectric detector responds faster to large smoke particles (produced by smoldering fires).
   Based on this information, the IAFC believes the response time will vary depending on the mix of small and large smoke particles, but "test results show that the differences in response time are small enough that both types provide enough time to escape."
   Those with questions regarding fire safety issues are encouraged to call the Woodinville Fire and Life Safety District at 483-2131.