Ed Rowan , Esq. shared his thoughts about smoke detectors to MOBILE, Ala. (WPMI) The smoke detectors you likely have in your home right now may not alert you when it counts. Ninety percent of homes have ionization alarms, which has been proven to be much slower at detecting smoldering fires. Many, including the International Association of Fire Fighters, have called for their removal from store shelves. Local 15’s Andrea Ramey investigates why Alabama has not taken that action in tonight’s Reality Check.
LaKeysia Spencer had smoke detectors in her home, but by all accounts they never went off September 19th, 2005 as she and her two boys, Demetrius and DeJuan, slept through a smoldering electrical fire on Brooke Avenue in Mobile. All three died from smoke inhalation. Her sister Tiffany Spencer remembers that gut-wrenching moment when she found out her sister and two nephews didn’t survive.
“I blacked out. Once they told me I blacked out,” said LaKeysia’s sister Tiffany. “After hearing all of the witnesses say that they never heard an alarm, and I’m thinking she had an alarm. I know she had alarms,” said Tiffany.
“That alarm, the ionization alarm only goes off when there is a flaming fire, and by the time it gets to that stage, the house is filled with toxic smoke,” said attorney Ed Rowan.
Rowan represents the Spencer family. His firm Taylor-Martino sued the smoke alarm manufacturer and later settled out of court. Rowan says their investigation into this case and other fatal fires uncovered disturbing details most consumers aren’t aware of when it comes to smoke detectors.
“It is a scientific fact that ionization smoke alarms sound 30 – 33 minutes later than a photoelectric smoke alarm in a slow growth or smoldering fire,” said Rowan.
A former fire protection research engineer testified to that in a deposition.
“Sometimes they just don’t work and the manufacturers agree with that,” said private fire investigator Doug Cranford, who spent nine years with Mobile Fire-Rescue.
Complaint data Rowan obtained shows people for decades now have called manufacturers with issues of ionization alarms being delayed in going off or never going off at all.
“From a consumer standpoint, from a fire protection standpoint, there’s an issue here,” said Cranford.
“Do you feel the code should change in Alabama?” asked Ramey.
“Since I don’t know what kind of fire we’re going to have in a house, and I don’t know the conditions of that fire, right now. I don’t know which one would go off first. Right now, I’m just requiring that we have a listed and labeled smoke alarm in the house,” replied Alabama State Fire Marshal Ed Paulk.
While states like Massachusetts now require homes to have photoelectric alarms, Paulk believes consumers should educate themselves about the differences and make their own determination.
“I can’t say one is better than the other,” said Paulk. “Personally, in my home, I have photoelectric.”
Paulk says because he does not have an attached garage with combustible materials, does not have gas service, and does not fry foods, that is why he chose a photoelectric alarm. All of those things, he says, would cause a fast flaming, fire.
“We don’t get to choose our fires, when she went to sleep on a Sunday night, she did not believe she would not wake up again,” said Tiffany. “I believe that because she had an ionization smoke alarm that did not detect the type of fire that she had. I do believe that a photoelectric one would have possibly saved her life. I believe that.”
Many fire officials recommend having a dual alarm, one that is both photoelectric and ionization. And if you want to find out which kind you have, all you have to do is look at the alarm. It will say what kind it is. It may be on the back or side of the alarm.