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Lummi Island Fire Department
Lummi Island, Washington

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EMT's and First Responders In Your Community 

Smoke Alarms
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Why wear a bike helmet?

Wake Up Get A Smoke Alarm

Smoke detectors are devices that are mounted on the wall or ceiling and automatically sound a warning when they sense smoke or other products of combustion. When people are warned early enough about a fire, they can escape before it spreads. Prices start at about $6 and up.

Every year thousands of people die from fires in the home. Fire kills an estimated 4,000 Americans every year. Another 30,000 people are seriously injured by fire each year. Property damage from fire costs us at least $11.2 billion yearly. Most fire victims feel that fire would "never happen to them."

Although we like to feel safe at home, about two-thirds of our nation's fire deaths happen in the victim's own home. The home is where we are at the greatest risk and where we must take the most precautions. Most deaths occur from inhaling smoke or poisonous gases, not from the flames.

Most fatal fires occur in residential buildings between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. when occupants are more likely to be asleep. More than 90 percent of fire deaths in buildings occur in residential dwellings.

A Johns Hopkins University study, funded by the United States Fire Administration, found that 75 percent of residential fire deaths and 84 percent of residential fire injuries could have been prevented by smoke detectors.

There are two basic type of smoke detectors:

  1. Ionization detectors - Ionization detectors contain radioactive material that ionizes the air, making an electrical path. When smoke enters, the smoke molecules attach themselves to the ions. The change in electric current flow triggers the alarm. The radioactive material is called americium. It's a radioactive metallic element produced by bombardment of plutonium with high energy neutrons. The amount is very small and not harmful.  

  2. Photo-electric detectors - These type of detectors contain a light source (usually a bulb) and a photocell, which is activated by light. Light from the bulb reflects off the smoke particles and is directed towards the photocell. The photocell then is activated to trigger the alarm.

Choosing a smoke detector
When choosing a smoke detector, there are several things to consider. Think about which areas of the house you want to protect, where fire would be most dangerous, how many you will need, etc.

The Lummi Island Fire Department recommends that every home have a smoke detector outside each sleeping area (inside as well if members of the household sleep with the door closed) and on every level of the home, including the basement. The National Fire Alarm code requires a smoke detector inside each sleeping area for new construction. On floors without bedrooms, detectors should be installed in or near living areas, such as dens, living rooms or family rooms. Smoke detectors are not recommended for kitchens.

The safest bet is to have both kinds or a combination detector with a battery back up. Be sure to check for a testing laboratory label on the detector. It means that samples of that particular model have been tested under operating conditions. Check to see if it is easy to maintain and clean. Be sure bulbs and batteries are easy to purchase and convenient to install.

The placement of smoke detectors is very important. Sleeping areas need the most protection. One detector in a short hallway outside the bedroom area is usually adequate. Hallways longer than 30 feet should have one at each end. For maximum protection, install a detector in each bedroom.

Be sure to keep the detector away from fireplaces and wood stoves to avoid false alarms. Place smoke detectors at the top of each stairwell and at the end of each long hallway. Smoke rises easily through stairwells. If you should put a smoke detector in your kitchen, be sure to keep it away from cooking fumes or smoking areas.

Proper mounting of a smoke detector also is important. You can mount many detectors by yourself, but those connected to your household wiring should have their own separate circuit and be installed by a professional electrician. If you mount your detector on the ceiling, be sure to keep it at least 18 inches away from dead air space near walls and corners. If you mount it on the wall, place it six to 12 inches below the ceiling and away from corners. Keep them high because smoke rises.

Never place them any closer than three feet from an air register that might recirculate smoke. Don't place them near doorways or windows where drafts could impair the detector operation. Don't place them on an uninsulated exterior wall or ceiling. Temperature extremes can affect the batteries.

Keeping smoke detectors in good condition is easy. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions. Be sure to replace the batteries as needed,  we recommend you change them in the Spring and in the Fall when you change your clocks. Most models will make a chirping, popping or beeping sound when the battery is losing its charge. When this sound is heard, install a fresh battery, preferably an alkaline type.

Check the smoke detector every 30 days by releasing smoke or pushing the test button. Clean the detector face and grillwork often to remove dust and grease. Never paint a smoke detector as it will hamper its function. Check your detector if you've been away from home.

If you're looking for a novel gift for somebody, consider giving them a smoke detector. It's an interesting gift that can save lives and it shows that you care.

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Person Checking a Smoke Detector


Carbon Monoxide Detectors

(Frequently Asked Questions About Carbon Monoxide Detectors)

What is carbon monoxide (CO) and why do I need a carbon monoxide detector?

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless and toxic gas produced as a by-product of combustion. Any fuel burning appliance, vehicle, tool or other device has the potential to produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide gas. Examples of carbon monoxide producing devices commonly in use around the home include:

  • Fuel fired furnaces (non-electric)
  • Gas water heaters
  • Fireplaces and woodstoves
  • Gas stoves
  • Gas dryers
  • Charcoal grills
  • Lawnmowers, snow blowers and other yard equipment
  • Automobiles

The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that approximately 200 people per year are killed by accidental CO poisoning with an additional 5000 people injured. These deaths and injuries are typically caused by improperly used or malfunctioning equipment aggravated by improvements in building construction which limit the amount of fresh air flowing in to homes and other structures.

While regular maintenance and inspection of gas burning equipment in the home can minimize the potential for exposure to CO gas, the possibility for some type of sudden failure resulting in a potentially life threatening build up of gas always exists.

What are the medical effects of carbon monoxide and how do I recognize them?

Carbon monoxide inhibits the blood's ability to carry oxygen to body tissues including vital organs such as the heart and brain. When CO is inhaled, it combines with the oxygen carrying hemoglobin of the blood to form carboxyhemoglobin. Once combined with the hemoglobin, that hemoglobin is no longer available for transporting oxygen. How quickly the carboxyhemoglobin builds up is a factor of the concentration of the gas being inhaled (measured in parts per million or PPM) and the duration of the exposure. Compounding the effects of the exposure is the long half-life of carboxyhemoglobin in the blood. Half-life is a measure of how quickly levels return to normal. The half-life of carboxyhemoglobin is approximately 5 hours. This means that for a given exposure level, it will take about 5 hours for the level of carboxyhemoglobin in the blood to drop to half its current level after the exposure is terminated.

The following table describes the symptoms associated with a given concentration of COHb:

% COHb     Symptoms and Medical Consequences                               

10%        No symptoms. Heavy smokers can have as much as 9% COHb.         

15%        Mild headache.                                                  

25%        Nausea and serious headache.  Fairly quick recovery after       
           treatment with oxygen and/or fresh air.                         

30%        Symptoms intensify.  Potential for long term effects            
           especially in the case of infants, children, the elderly,       
           victims of heart disease and pregnant women.                    

45%        Unconsciousness.                                                

50%+       Death. 

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Bike Helmets - why wear them?

 Rather than pummel your brain with statistics about why you and your kids should be wearing bike helmets when you ride to school, work, or just for fun, here are some stories from survivors:

Austin:  "Hi! My name is Austin K. When I was in sixth grade, I was an honor student. I played on the All Star Little League Team as a pitcher and on a competition soccer team. I used to ride my bike but I didn't like to wear a bike helmet. My mother tried to persuade me to wear one but I thought helmets were uncomfortable and hot. None of my friends wore bike helmets and I didn't exactly want to look like a jerk. Let me tell you how really wrong I was.....

 "On September 12, 1994, I went bike riding with my brother and a friend. I took a left-hand turn and started pedaling up the street when I got hit by a pick-up truck. My head got whipped back and forth, damaging many parts of my brain. I was actually near death when the ambulance got me to the hospital. My mother was told to go in and kiss me good-bye because they didn't think I would live more than a few hours. I was hurt very badly and slipped into a coma. I suffered a traumatic brain injury all because I had not been wearing a bike helmet. A respirator did my breathing, a tube in my stomach fed me, and a bolt in my head monitored the swelling in my brain.

 "When I finally woke up I had to be taught to eat, walk, talk and think all over again. I spent months in a wheelchair and had to rely on everyone else to do things for me. I spent my days enduring painful physical therapy sessions and longed to be normal again. When I first got hit all my friends paid attention to me, but slowly they all disappeared.

 "It's been four years now since my accident. Although I have made a remarkable recovery, I am very different as a result of that accident. I will never pitch another baseball game because my right arm won't work. I have had to settle for managing the soccer team instead of playing because my balance and speed are impaired. I am in special education classes because my injured brain cannot keep up in the regular classes. I will never be able to ride a bike or even drive a car. I still endure painful physical therapy sessions every week.

 "I'd like to leave you with a very important message.... No kid should ever have to go through what I did and am still doing. All of this pain and trouble that I am forced to deal with now could have been avoided if I had only worn a bike helmet. My message is simple, 'Please wear a bike helmet...Because I said so!'" – Austin

The following stories have very different endings from Austin's -

 "I was out riding my bike and I wasn't paying attention. I ran into a car mirror, and it knocked me off (my bike). I hit my head, and my helmet cracked and split in half, but all that happened was I had a broken finger. "I didn't want to wear my bike helmet. I didn't think it was cool. But my Mom said if I didn't wear it I would be grounded from riding my bike. I think it saved me maybe from brain damage. Would I recommend that other kids wear a bike helmet? Yes. And I'd recommend that I wear one." - Justin S., age 12, St. Louis, MO

 "When I flew nine feet through the air and hit the pavement head first, I broke my bike helmet instead of my head. If I hadn't been wearing a helmet, there is a good chance I would have been killed or injured too seriously to ever ride a bike again." - Payton B., age 12, Bethesda, MD

 "Last Spring I was riding my bike up and down my block pedaling side to side. All of a sudden my bike made an unexpected turn and I crashed down toward the street. My bike helmet landed on a mound of asphalt. My helmet now has a large puncture, and my skinned knees have healed. Had my bike helmet not been on or properly secured, I would have hit my face or smashed my head." - Alison W., age 11, Bethesda, MD

 Return to Recumbent Bike Site 



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