New smoke alarms

Oswego Fire Chief Randy Griffin holds one of the new smoke alarms that will be required in New York State for new residents and homeowners. The new alarms include a sealed, long-lasting, non-replaceable battery.

In efforts to help mitigate fire damage and casualties because of faulty or poorly maintained smoke detectors, New York lawmakers have passed a bill that will require going forward that new residents and homeowners buy a long-lasting smoke alarm with an extended battery.

The policy, passed along with the New York state operating budget on April 1, will help prevent what experts have said is an “avoidable tragedy.”

Assembly Bill 3057 requires through the New York State Department of Codes that all battery-operated smoke alarms sold in the state are sealed and have a non-replaceable battery. The bill defines these as battery-operated devices that detect smoke, and also includes combination alarms that detect both smoke and carbon monoxide.

The battery lives for these new state-compliant alarms, officials said, will run up to 10 years, while the detectors themselves will cost anywhere from $15 to $30 apiece.

Local fire department officials also said the current models that demand constant maintenance and allow for people to change their batteries will slowly be phased out of the market, and will eventually be fully replaced by these new units.

“They certainly still have to be tested once a month, but you don’t replace the batteries,” said Captain Paul Conzone of the Oswego Fire Department, highlighting one of the benefits of the newly required alarms. “We often have problems with smoke alarms that are installed but they have no batteries or the batteries are no longer working, but this law makes it easy to maintain the alarms.”

Retailers also praised the new law.

“Each year nearly 3,000 Americans die from home fires, the vast majority in homes where a working smoke alarm is absent or disabled,” said Tarsila Wey, director of marketing for smoke detector brand First Alert. “For homes without hardwired or wirelessly connected alarms, this law will help ensure that all New York residents have better protection against such avoidable tragedies.”

While there is an increase in price upfront, Conzone argued that the savings in batteries eventually prove that these new alarms can be cost effective.

“Whereas the other alarms could be purchased for $5, with that said, over the course of the life of the alarm, it would generally cost $30 to $40 to replace batteries if you were changing them whenever you were required to,” Conzone said. “It is a little bit more expensive upfront, but you don’t have to replace the batteries.” 

This new legislation, Conzone said, could result in a safer home environment for New Yorkers, as well as lighten the task for fire crews around the state.

“It’s going to make our citizens safer, but it is also going to make our job safer because there will be more working alarms out there. In theory that is the whole idea, to protect our citizens and the property a little bit better,” Conzone said. “These alarms give homeowners a better notification to get out of their homes if it does catch fire, and the earlier people get notified of the fire, the earlier 911 gets called and the earlier we get there.”

As part of the bill, current homeowners and residents do not have to replace their fire alarms if they are within the expiration date time frame. However, if a property is put up for sale or rent, or a resident applies for a permit with the state, the law would apply to that household, making the owner of the property replace the detectors with the new model.

In Fulton, fire department officials said the absence of smoke detectors is a prevalent issue.

“Detectors without batteries are as big of an issue as are homes without detectors, and obviously that is all one in the same when it comes to having a fire,” said Fulton Fire Chief David Eiffe. “We do see it quite a bit, especially in rental units, in which case it is the landlords’ responsibility, but we do have a few homes we do see without detectors.”

Eiffe added that while the department has programs in place to try and mitigate losses attributed to faulty or non-existent fire alarms in homes, recent incidents seem to still tell a story of preventable tragedy.

“I’d like to think that our fire prevention and safety and education programs will make things better, however, historically we hear every year in the news — and it recently happened in Watertown — that a family died because they didn’t have any working smoke detectors,” Eiffe said. “You’d think in this day and age with social media and the news and the awareness that there are people losing their lives because they don’t have the $15 detectors, you’d hope things would improve, but it doesn’t necessarily happen that way.”

Even with the new alarm’s extended battery life, Eiffe said, residents should practice safe fire-prevention habits in conjunction with having a working detector.

“It still doesn’t take away that people need to check them, check that they are installed properly and that they stay up where they belong and aren’t covered for one reason or another,” Eiffe said. “It doesn’t change the fact that we should still practice good fire safety and exit drills in the home and checking the detectors frequently.”

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