Md. law requires smoke alarm upgrades

A new Maryland law approved by Gov. Martin O’Malley takes effect July 1. It requires battery-operated smoke alarms in homes have batteries that last ten years. State fire officials hope the new technology and the new law will save lives.

Without a smoke alarm or working smoke alarm, firefighters warn house fires are often deadly. That was the case in February when a house fire devastated a Glenarden family.

“Four people died in that home, the Price family,” says Marc Bashoor, Prince George’s County fire chief. “We did not find one smoke alarm in that home.”

By 2018, Maryland law requires that residential smoke alarms must be lithium-powered, ten-year models featuring a “hush” option to discourage homeowners from simply removing the battery to silence the noise, which could potentially leave them unprotected.

For Cathy Hedrick, this cause is personal. In 1992, her 19-year-old son Kenny, a Morningside volunteer firefighter, was killed while attempting to rescue a young boy from a house fire. Neither made it out alive.

“By promoting public education on smoke alarms, fire sprinklers, exit routes, the community actually becomes the hero by saving themselves, thereby preventing the firefighter putting themselves at risk,” says Hedrick of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

With a $140,000 grant from FEMA, firefighters in Capitol Heights, Md. are going door to door replacing old smoke alarms with 5,000 long-lasting models. They’re concerned that with more synthetic materials in our homes nowadays, flames are moving faster.

“A fire that used to take three to five to six minutes to expand to where someone can’t get out is now happening in less than three minutes,” says Bashoor.

Fire officials in Capitol Heights say their ultimate goal is to get the smoke alarms into every home in their primary response area.

These are about $5 to $7 more than your traditional battery-operated smoke alarm,” says Neal Zipser of Kidde Smoke Alarms. “However, over the life of the alarm, you should save about $40 on battery costs.”

But while the new smoke detectors might last ten years, firefighters still encourage homeowners to test the battery every month.