A recent spate of fires in the Ottawa area ought to be enough to prompt local residents to assess their own preparedness for fire. One Ottawa fire, which was caused by a candle, was in a home without a smoke detector. Fortunately, no lives were lost in that fire but such won’t always be the case and should serve as a warning to others to check their own homes for the presence not only of a smoke detector — but also a working smoke detector.

“Working” is the operative word because many people might not know smoke detectors have a limited life. Smoke detectors are just like other electronic appliances, especially those operating 24/7 — they don’t last forever. The presence of good batteries won’t make an old smoke detector work as it should. Most manufacturers of smoke detectors suggest replacing the units after 10 years. If residents are uncertain of the age of their detectors, they can find the answer simply by removing the detector from the ceiling and reading the date on the labels. A manufacturer date of before 2002 means it is time to get a new one — or more.

Minimum standards call for one smoke detector per floor of living space in the hallways, including basements and inhabitable attics. Those who want to go above and beyond also may put a smoke detector in each sleeping room. Since most fires occur at night or in the early mornings while people are sleeping, an early warning system is essential.  Newer homes have wired smoke detectors, so if one sounds, they all sound.

Smoke detectors are affordable at retail stores, but a donation of funds from the 2012 Leadership Franklin County class provided 150 smoke detectors courtesy of the American Red Cross, which are available for free at the Ottawa Fire Department. That wasn’t all though. The leadership class sent a $7,250 check to the City of Ottawa for its reserve fund for the purchase of additional smoke detectors in the future as funding gaps occur from other previous grant sources. That’s a tremendous investment in the future safety of residents in Ottawa and Franklin County.

More than 100 smoke detectors typically are distributed per year to the public by the Ottawa Fire Department. If free isn’t good enough, in some cases, fire department personnel even will install the detectors in homes of those unable to do so on their own. Many rural fire departments offer this same service.

Smoke detectors might not be able to stop a fire, but they are certain to provide a needed warning to those in a structure when smoke is present and they should get out and call 911 for assistance.

The prospect of saving lives is foremost in firefighters’ minds, and research shows the number of fatalities involving fire is significantly decreased when smoke detectors are in use. We each can help these public servants help us by ensuring homes have an adequate number of smoke detectors and checking the dates on existing smoke detectors to verify they are in good working order.


— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher