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Fire Safety Officials Warn Against Old Smoke Alarms Ahead of New IL Law

Fire safety officials gathered in Springfield on Tuesday to warn against using smoke detectors with a removable battery. They also reminded Illinoisans about a law requiring newer detectors.

Common advice is to change your smoke detector battery every year. But Margaret Vaughn of the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance is urging a new approach - replace the detector with one that has a built-in battery that lasts up to 10 years. She says the old ones can’t be guaranteed to work if a fire breaks out.

“Everyone thinks it’s not gonna happen to them, everyone thinks we can change the alarms later, everyone thinks they can run from a fire, and unfortunately you don’t have a chance," she told reporters.

According to the Illinois Fire Marshal’s office, more than 100 people died last year in structure fires.

"The majority of these deaths are caused by smoke inhalation, and not burns, which is why escape time is so critical," said Ed Canny, the Fire Marshal for the City of Springfield.

He explained newer buildings are especially prone to quick-spreading fires. When glues and other synthetic materials used in their construction catch fire, a space can become fully engulfed in flames, or "flashover," in as little as three minutes.

"This is why it is so important to have a working smoke detector, so that you can hear that alarm and get out of your home as quickly as possible," Canny said.

To further combat house fires, state lawmakers approved a measure requiring new smoke detectors in all homes built before 1988. While that new law doesn’t take effect for another three years, officials urge not to wait that long. Local fire departments may even help residents install a new detector.

State Representative Mike Murphy (R, Springfield) says without the right smoke detector, people may be risking their lives.

“With the majority of fire-related deaths occurring homes without smoke alarms, the legislation was long overdue," he said. "People have a false sense of security when it comes to fire safety. It’s vital that the public is educated on this new law and can reach out to their local fire officials if they need assistance.”

Officials said newer smoke detectors cost about $15, and often include hush buttons that can silence the device if it goes off accidentally.

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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