Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

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Smoke Detector Information

What is the difference between smoke alarms and smoke detectors?
Smoke alarms are defined as self-contained, single or multiple-station smoke-sensing devices (used most often in residential applications) that may be wired to operate in conjunction with each other, but are not part of a central system. Smoke detectors are defined as smoke-sensing devices that are not self-contained, but are hooked to a central control system (generally but not exclusively used in commercial buildings).

What is the difference between an ionization alarm and a photoelectric alarm?
Ionization smoke alarms contain material that ionizes the air, making an electrical path. When products of combustion enter the device, the molecules attach themselves to the ions. The change in electric current flow triggers the alarm. Photoelectric alarms contain a light source and photocell, which is activated by light. Light from the bulb reflects off the smoke particles and is directed towards the photocell. The photocell is then activated to trigger the alarm. When properly installed and maintained, both types of alarms will save lives.

Where must alarms be installed in an apartment?
Apartments are required to have smoke alarms, per the building code, at the time of construction. The minimum requirements are that smoke alarms must be installed outside the sleeping area, such as in a hallway. If the apartment has more than one level a smoke alarm must be installed on each level. Bozeman Fire also recommends adding smoke alarms to each bedroom for additional protection.

Where must alarms be installed in a single family home?
Single family dwellings are required to have smoke alarms, per the building code, at the time of construction. The minimum requirements are that smoke alarms must be installed outside the sleeping area, such as in a hallway. If the home has more than one level a smoke alarm must be installed on each level. Bozeman Fire recommends adding smoke alarms to each bedroom for additional protection.

How should smoke alarms be installed?
Smoke and deadly gases are hot, so they rise toward the ceiling. That's where alarms should be - on the ceiling at least four inches from the nearest wall or high on a wall, 4 to 12 inches from the ceiling. For more specific information, see the manufacturer's instructions or contact your local fire department for specifics.

Where shouldn't smoke alarms be placed?
Smoke alarms should not be installed in kitchens, bathrooms, garages or unheated areas because moisture, frost, cooking vapors and exhaust fumes could cause the unit to sound a false alarm.

I have hard-wired alarms; do they need to have a long-life battery back up?
No. Only smoke alarms that are solely battery operated need to have a long-life battery. Bozeman Fire recommends using long-life batteries in all smoke alarms for enhanced reliability.

How do I maintain my smoke alarms?
Smoke alarms have a limited life span. Alarms that are older than ten years should be replaced....a manufacture date stamp should be on the back of the alarm. Test smoke alarms monthly as well vacuum your alarms monthly to remove dust and cobwebs. If you have photoelectric alarms, replace the batteries with long-life batteries for enhanced reliability.

What should I look for when purchasing an alarm?
Look for an alarm that has a hush feature, a malfunction signal, a loud alarm and if it is solely battery operated, a long-life battery. Only purchase an alarm that has been tested by a independent laboratory such as the Underwriter's Laboratories (it will have a UL® symbol on it).

Proper Disposal of Smoke Alarms
The most common type of smoke alarm is an ionization alarm, which contains a very small amount of Americium 241, a synthetic isotope which emits both alpha and gamma rays. The Americium is shielded by a metal chamber within the plastic casing of the alarm. On your wall, this material poses little threat; however, when an alarm is broken open in an incinerator or a landfill, it can present a health hazard. For this reason, the law requires that all smoke alarms be labeled as containing radioactive content.

There are two ways to dispose of your smoke alarm:

  • It is legal to dispose of your ionization alarm in the garbage, however, we encourage you to first remove the battery (and recycle it at a household hazardous waste disposal event).
  • Return the smoke alarm to the manufacturer. They are mandated by the Nuclear Regulatory law 10 CFR 32.27 to see that the radioactive waste is disposed at a nuclear waste disposal facility. When sending back a smoke alarm, remove the battery but do NOT dissemble the smoke alarm in any way, and include a note that the alarm is intended for disposal. The smoke alarm should be returned to the manufacturer or store by UPS ground mail (not airmail). No special shipping is needed for your smoke alarm.
  • The fire alarm in my building may sound for long periods and nothing happens

    The fire alarm system in your apartment building may not be monitored and may not automatically notify the emergency dispatch center. In case the alarms go off, immediately leave the building and call 911 from a neighboring building or from your cell phone. Tell the 911 dispatcher your name, the location of the emergency and what the emergency is.

    Also, the fire doors in your building are there to save your life. They keep fire in a hallway or another floor from getting into your apartment. Your building’s stairway and your hallway are like chimneys in a fire, the fire will travel from one floor to another unless the fire doors, stairway and hallway doors on your floor are closed. The next time you see a fire door propped open, close it. The life you save may be yours!


    Each year in America, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning claims more than 200 lives and sends another 10,000 people to hospital emergency rooms. The Bozeman Fire Department would like you to know that there are simple steps you can take to protect yourself from deadly carbon monoxide fumes.

    Understanding the Risk of Carbon Monoxide

    What is carbon monoxide? Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas. Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home. At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue. The effects of CO exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure.

    Where does carbon monoxide come from?

    CO gas can come from several sources: gas or oil-fired appliances, charcoal grills, wood-burning furnaces or fireplaces and motor vehicles.

    Who is at risk?

    Everyone is at risk for CO poisoning. Medical experts believe that unborn babies, infants, children, senior citizens and people with heart or lung problems are at even greater risk for CO poisoning.

    What actions do I take if my carbon monoxide alarm goes off?

    What you need to do if your carbon monoxide alarm goes off depends on whether anyone is feeling ill or not.

    If no one is feeling ill:

    1. Silence the alarm.
    2. Turn off all appliances and sources of combustion (i.e. furnace and fireplace).
    3. Ventilate the house with fresh air by opening doors and windows.
    4. Call a qualified professional to investigate the source of the possible CO buildup.

    If illness is a factor:

    1. Evacuate all occupants immediately.
    2. Determine how many occupants are ill and determine their symptoms.
    3. Call 911 and when relaying information to the dispatcher, include the number of people feeling ill.
    4. Do not re-enter the home without the approval of a fire department representative.
    5. Call a qualified professional to repair the source of the CO leak.

    Protect yourself and your family from CO poisoning

    • Install at least one UL (Underwriters Laboratories)-listed carbon monoxide alarm with an audible warning signal near the sleeping areas and outside individual bedrooms. Carbon monoxide alarms measure levels of CO over time and are designed to sound an alarm before an average, healthy adult would experience symptoms. It is very possible that you may not be experiencing symptoms when you hear the alarm. This does not mean that CO is not present.
    • CO detectors have a life expectancy of approximately 5 years and should be replaced accordingly. A detector with a digital display is recommended by Bozeman Fire.
    • Have a qualified professional check all fuel-burning appliances, furnaces, venting and chimney systems at least once a year.
    • Never use your range or oven to help heat your home, and never use a charcoal grill or hibachi in your home or garage.
    • Never keep a car running in a garage. Even if the garage doors are open, normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to reliably prevent a dangerous buildup of CO.
    • When purchasing an existing home, have a qualified technician evaluate the integrity of the heating and cooling systems, as well as the sealed spaces between the garage and house. The presence of a carbon monoxide alarm in your home can save your life in the event of CO buildup.