EDITORIAL | Better smoke detector needed

South Whidbey Fire/EMS has a good program, using federal money to hand out smoke detectors the first Tuesday of each month from 7 to 8 p.m. During that hour next Tuesday, June 4, stop by your station in Clinton, Bayview, Langley, Maxwelton or Saratoga and pick one up.

Having a working smoke detector cuts the risk of a fatality in a house fire by 50 percent, experts say. Looking at a modern house, it’s hard to believe it could be totaled by fire. All the drywall doesn’t look very flammable, and firefighters are only minutes away. But a house fire in Langley last month reminded us that anything can burn if the fire is given time before it’s noticed.

While we fully support smoke detectors, modern science to our knowledge has never solved some of the frustrating problems we have with them. They’re usually wired into the house, perhaps in a hallway ceiling, but still require batteries. Five years fly by and it’s hard to remember to change batteries, despite biannual warnings when daylight savings time kicks in and out. When changing batteries, it can be a struggle opening the battery trap door while trying not to yank the whole fire detector out of the drywall. It’s not unusual to see a dangling fire detector in homes, suggesting the owner had a little problem replacing the batteries.

The other problem is that smoke detectors can’t tell the difference between a real fire and someone cooking bacon in the kitchen. It goes off anyway, and there’s no good way to turn off the annoying, high-pitched warning alarm. Yes, there’s a button to press but it seldom seems to work. People sometimes disconnect their smoke detectors because of the frustration.

What the world needs is a better smoke detector. One with an easy on/off switch, and one that is easy to reach, not wired to the ceiling. When turned off, the detector would come back on automatically, after the bacon fumes are gone. Instead of being wired to the house, it could be stuck high on a wall. Modern batteries last for years. Is the power backup really necessary? Build a better smoke detector and the world will beat a path to your door.

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