Why It Matters

Embrace use of smoke alarms

There is no smoke without fire, which is why all new homes will have to be installed with a smoke alarm from June next year, The Straits Times understands.

This warning device, mandatory in some countries, will help to prevent injuries from fires, two-thirds of which occur in homes.

Last year, 62 people were injured by fire, 26 of whom suffered smoke inhalation.

Said Mr James Ong, general manager of fire safety solutions provider Chubb Singapore: "Often, the most deadly fires are small fires that quietly smoulder and (cause) smoke while people are asleep or are in a different room."

Without the early warning provided by an alarm, people can be overcome by smoke before the fire is even discovered, he added.

In the United States, smoke alarms sounded in 53 per cent of home fires reported to US fire departments from 2009 to 2013, according to its Consumer Product Safety Commission. The death rate was more than twice as high in homes that did not have working smoke alarms.

But smoke alarms are not foolproof. After all, these basic devices are easily defeated by residents' apathy and neglect. Visitors to countries where smoke alarms are mandatory may sometimes see the devices covered in cling film or with their batteries removed - something I saw in two motels during a recent trip to Australia.

Fire safety experts also said the elderly and those with disabilities could have issues maintaining these ceiling-mounted devices.

A non-working smoke alarm, due to lack of maintenance, is as useful as not having any early warning device at all.

It may not be practical for the authorities to go after everyone who neglects to maintain their smoke alarms. Ease of use, public education as well as cost to the residents are all issues that should be given due consideration.

But while the authorities should tackle these, home owners must play their part by embracing this development, which could well save their lives.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2017, with the headline 'Embrace use of smoke alarms'. Print Edition | Subscribe