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Homeowners risk death, property loss, with disabled smoke detectors

A large number of homeowners are putting their lives and property at risk by intentionally disabling their smoke detectors, according to a survey by The Hartford Financial Services Group. The survey reports that 28 percent of adults queried had disconnected smoke alarms in their homes and failed to reconnect them. "Since smoke alarms were introduced 30 years ago, thousands of lives have been saved by these simple devices." About 650 people a year, or 17.5 percent of all home fire fatalities, die in fires at homes with nonworking smoke detectors, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Dead, missing or disconnected batteries were typically to blame. "We're deeply concerned that so many people intentionally disable their best defense against fire," says David Fortin, a fire safety expert with The Hartford. "Since smoke alarms were introduced 30 years ago, thousands of lives have been saved by these simple devices." Fortin says about 94 percent of homes have at least one smoke detector, but many people disable them, because they are apparently inconvienced when the alarms are set off by cooking fumes or chirp when the batteries need to be replaced. Smoke inhalation, not burns, is the primary cause of death in nearly 75 percent of home fire fatalities, he says. The survey, conducted in the summer of 2002 by a national research firm, involved 953 adults. Twenty-eight percent admitted to disabling smoke detectors at least once in the past five years, with 3 percent admitting they disconnected the devices almost routinely. This behavior was most common, at about 40 percent, in those aged 25 to 34. Least likely were those 55 and older, with only 20 percent reporting a disconnected alarm. The Hartford offers these tips for proper installation and care of smoke alarms: * Install smoke alarms outside each sleeping area, inside any bedroom where the door is typically shut, and on every story of the house, including the basement. * Install ceiling-mounted models at least 4 inches from the nearest wall and wall-mounted models 4 to 12 inches from the ceiling. * Test units monthly. * Install new batteries once a year. * Regularly vacuum smoke alarms with the brush attachment.

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