The Role of a Smoke Alarm

Escaping a fire relies on two primary events: 1) occupants becoming aware of the fire before the fire produces untenable conditions, and 2) occupants responding appropriately so they may safely escape.  Smoke alarms can provide early notification if installed and maintained correctly. However, occupants need to be receptive to an alarm signal and need to execute an escape plan to most effectively take advantage of fire notification. Many fire cases involve disputes over the role that smoke alarms may or may not have played in occupant injuries and casualties. Detailed assessments of an alarm’s history, location in a structure, and maintenance along with a forensic examination of the device after the fire can be used to analyze whether a smoke alarm sounded during a fire and the potential impact the alarm had on occupant notification and escape. This type of analysis must also include assessments of other factors, such as features of the building, the development of the fire, and the occupants (e.g., age, impairments, etc.).

Picture_Section 1_Forensic Services_Smoke Alarm First Image 3619_74519Smoke Alarm Performance and Testing

JENSEN HUGHES has extensive experience with evaluating smoke alarm technologies (ionization, photoelectric, combination, and multi-sensor/multi-criteria) over the past twenty years.  Research has included evaluations of smoke alarm response to various fires relative to occupant notification and escape and the development of alarm thresholds and guidance for detector response modeling. JENSEN HUGHES engineers have conducted thousands of full-scale fire detection experiments, as well as smoke box sensitivity tests and fire room tests in general accordance with UL 217.

Codes and Standards

Standard of care for the installation, maintenance and testing of smoke alarms is established through local and national codes as well as general practice in the industry. JENSEN HUGHES engineers have a long history of participating on NFPA 72 and UL Standards committees. Dr. Gottuk is the past chair of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Technical Committee on Single- and Multiple-Station Alarms and Household Fire Alarm Systems (NFPA 72). JENSEN HUGHES has also been involved with the development and review of multiple code requirements dealing with the use of smoke alarms and the performance of alarm signals as they relate to multiple people groups, including children, older adults, and those with hearing and other impairments.

Forensic AnalysisPicture-Section 2- Forensic Services-Smoke Alarm Horn

A detailed forensic analysis of a smoke alarm after a fire can be instrumental in evaluating its performance during the event. JENSEN HUGHES has refined and validated the use of forensic analysis techniques for determining whether smoke alarms sounded during a fire.

Contact Us Today:

Contact us today using our online form or by contacting one of our many regional branches.  For specific questions regarding JENSEN HUGHES’ smoke alarm related forensic services, please contact:

Dan Gottuk, PhD
+1 410-737-8677

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