Today Show: Popular smoke alarms may go off too late, experts warn

When you buy a smoke detector, you assume it will sound quickly in a fire, giving you plenty of time to escape. But some experts warn that’s not always true. In fact, we found that the most common type of smoke detector — the kind you probably have in your house right now — may not go off in time, even when surrounded by thick, toxic smoke, giving little warning to get your family out.

Amanda Debuty awoke to a house full of smoke, her children trapped upstairs. “As I’m trying to get upstairs, my first thought is the four people that I have upstairs, that they’re not scared, that they’re safe,” she said tearfully.

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What About The Available Options For Smoke Alarms?

The descriptions on smoke alarm packaging can be confusing. We will take you through them but first and foremost, remember, choose a photoelectric smoke alarm! It is identified on the packaging by the word “Photoelectric” or the “P” symbol.

Here are the options, their descriptions and Earl Lee Warning’s recommendations.

Dual-Sensor (Photoelectric & Ionization): Not recommended. The ionization sensor will make this alarm more prone to nuisance false alarms. It isn’t necessary, but if you prefer to use ionization alarms in conjunction with your photoelectric alarms,  purchase separate ionization alarms and mount them next to your photoelectric alarms.

Combination Photoelectric & Carbon Monoxide Alarm: Personal preference. We do recommend that everyone have at least one carbon monoxide alarm in the bedroom area but we suggest having at least one separate carbon monoxide detector with a digital readout. A digital readout gives the user an indication of the type of alarm the unit is experiencing & the approximate levels of carbon monoxide present. Visit for more information on carbon monoxide detectors.

Escape Light: Not recommended. Remember that smoke rises and the light on your smoke alarm will be obscured quickly in a fire. It also only covers a small area. We suggest keeping  flashlights in nightstands in each bedroom to take with you as you escape a fire.

Silence/Mute/Hush Button: Recommended. In the event of a false alarm from cooking or shower steam, pressing this button will temporarily silence the smoke alarm while you clear or fan the smoke or steam away from the alarm. It will automatically reset after several minutes. Remember, never remove the battery from your smoke alarm!

Long Life Battery (Up to 10 years): Recommended. A long life battery (up to 10 years) may be permanently mounted in the smoke alarm and the 10 year battery is designed for the  life of the alarm. You never have to remember to change the battery!

Hardwired or AC Powered Smoke Alarms (With battery back-up): Recommended. Smoke alarms are powered by the home electrical system and have a battery back-up to keep the alarm operational during power failures. This type of installation is common in newer homes but can be retrofitted into older homes. A hardwired system must initially be installed by a qualified electrician but the homeowner can easily replace existing alarms with new photoelectric alarms and when existing alarms malfunction or reach their 10 year expiration date.

Interconnected Smoke Alarms (Hardwired or Wireless): Recommended. With interconnected smoke alarms, when one smoke alarm sounds, all smoke alarms throughout the house also sound. With voice option, the specific location of the smoke alarm in alarm can be announced to all alarms.

Voice Alarm (Talking): Personal preference. A voice alarm option provides a pre-programmed voice or can allow the homeowner to record their own voice that will sound in conjunction with the standard warning tone. The announcement of the specific location of the smoke alarm in alarm may also be an option. Some studies have shown that young children will awaken quicker to the sound of a voice than just the standard beeping alarm.


How Can I Help Earl Lee Warning?

The Public

Purchase, install and maintain only photoelectric smoke alarms in your home. Help spread the word to your families, friends and neighbors. Share our website, which contains all the details and more information on the proper selection, installation and maintenance of smoke alarms.

Fire Departments

Fire departments are in a unique position of public trust enabling them to readily provide critical life-saving information and education to the citizens of their community. All fire fighters must be educated about smoke alarms and understand that photoelectric type smoke alarms are the best choice. This information can then be disseminated to the community through print & electronic media and public education programs.
A Firefighter training Power Point presentation regarding photoelectric smoke alarms can be found on this website and here:

Your City/Town Legislators will be looking to you to provide them with the information regarding the differences between photoelectric & ionization technology. Here are two quick presentations. Make sure you add in your city/town specific information in the appropriate slides.

PowerPoint Presentation for your Safety Committee or City Council (Medium length):

PowerPoint Presentation for your Safety Committee or City Council (Short Version):


Elected Officials and Legislators

Individuals in the unique position of providing safety through legislation can follow the lead of many other countries, states, cities and towns that have enacted photoelectric smoke alarm legislation. This process is not difficult and help is available by reaching out to the other progressive, fire-safe communities that have taken the steps before you. A comprehensive list of these communities and their legislation documents can be found on this website and here:


8.26 MB 346 downloads

Earl Lee Warning’s message is endorsed by:

Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital
University Hospitals
Safe Kids of Greater Cleveland
Ohio Fire Chiefs Association
North East Ohio Fire Chiefs Association
Central Ohio Fire Prevention Association
South West Ohio Fire Safety Commission
World Fire Safety Foundation