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Wellness Matters: Smoke Alarms Save Lives

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The following weekly column is written and sponsored by Virginia Hospital Center, a proud member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network and one of America’s 100 Top Hospitals for the third year in a row.

When was the last time you checked your smoke alarms? Properly installed, working smoke alarms provide the early warning you need to safely escape from a fire.

“A fire can double in size every 30 seconds, so every second of warning you have from an alarm matters,” says Lt. Sarah-Maria Marchegiani, public information officer for the Arlington County Fire Department.

You should have a smoke alarm on every floor of your home, and one in every bedroom. The department recommends testing the alarms each month by pressing the “test” button. If the alarm doesn’t sound, replace the batteries. Change the batteries in all your smoke alarms twice a year when you change your clocks, unless your alarms are equipped with a 10-year lithium battery.

The Arlington County Fire Department will gladly inspect and install your smoke alarms in County residences at no cost. Operation Firesafe provides free smoke alarms to Arlington families in need. Renters should first contact their landlords; the fire code states that landlords are responsible for installing smoke alarms in rental properties.

Just as important as smoke alarms is a home fire escape plan. Your plan should include two ways out of every room, getting low, closing the door behind you, going directly to your predetermined family meeting place, and then calling 911. Be sure the entire family understands the plan. Practice it together at least twice a year.

You should also check your carbon monoxide (CO) alarms. CO is known as the “silent killer” because it is odorless, colorless and tasteless. The Fire Department has responded to 911 calls for residents who say they feel sick and don’t realize it is CO poisoning. High levels of CO can lead to unconsciousness or even death. An inexpensive way to protect your family is to install and maintain both smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms.

The Arlington County Fire Department offers free home safety checks to residents of Arlington and the City of Falls Church.

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The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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