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When a fire breaks out in your home your chances of survival are much greater if you have properly installed smoke detectors. When installed and maintained (following manufacturer's directions), they provide early warning when a fire occurs.

Most fatal fires occur at night between midnight and 8 a.m. with fatalities resulting oftentimes from breathing smoke and toxic fire gases. When your smoke detector sounds, you may have as little as 2 1/2 minutes. A home escape plan should be developed prior to any fire as well.

For minimum protection, install a smoke detector outside of each bedroom or sleeping area. Keep your bedroom doors closed while you are asleep. Better yet, install detectors on every level of your home.

The ceiling is the best mounting location -- at least four inches away from any walls. If detectors are mounted on the wall, keep them away from corners and at least 4 inches, but no more than 12 inches from the ceiling to the bottom of the detector.

Keep your smoke detectors properly maintained. Test them at least once each month to ensure that they are working properly. Batteries in battery-operated detectors should be changed at least once a year. Use only the type of batteries recommended on the detector.

If your smoke detector sounds an alarm when no smoke is present, consult with the manufacturer or with your local fire department. If smoke from cooking materials causes the detector to sound an alarm, do not remove the batteries or disconnect the power source. Simply fan the smoke away from the detector until the alarm stops. If this happens frequently, it may be necessary to relocate the detector or to install a different type of detector.

Develop an escape plan and review it frequently with all members of the family. Be aware that children and elderly people may need special assistance should a fire occur. Establish a meeting place outside the house to be sure that everyone got out safely. When fire occurs, get out of the house and use a neighbor's telephone to notify the fire department.

In New York state, smoke detectors are required by law in all residences, both new and old. (Excerpted from NYS Dept. of State brochure on Smoke Detectors.)

Steven Nola is owner of AmeriSpec Home Inspection Service, part of a national home inspection service.

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