Fire Prevention at Home

You may have as little as 2 minutes to escape a home fire from the time the smoke alarm sounds. Learn how to use that time wisely at

Home fire safety

Every year thousands of people die from fires in the home. Fire kills an estimated 4,000 Americans every year and another 30,000 are seriously injured. Property damage from fire costs us at least $11.2 billion annually. Most fire victims feel that fire would "never happen to them".

In 1986 NFPA created the video Fire Power - which takes a firsthand look at the deadly dynamics of fire from ignition to full room involvement. At every twist and turn of the video, viewers get a bird's eye view of fire's path of destruction and are astonished at how rapidly smoke and flames from a small fire envelop a home, making escape virtually impossible. Much has changed since Fire Power was produced. What has not changed is the awesome power of fire. In Fire Power - Revisited NFPA revisits this dramatic footage and discusses the role home fire sprinklers play in saving lives and property.

About two-thirds of our nation's fire deaths happen in the victim's own home. The home is where we feel the safest, but are actually at the greatest risk and where we just take the most precautions. Most deaths occur from inhaling smoke or poisonous gases, not from the flames.

Kids and fire

We know that kids are curious about fire. If you have any concerns that your child is playing with fire, please contact us at or 360.753.8348. We have personnel that are trained to evaluate fire setting behavior and provide educational intervention.

Smoke alarms and smoke detectors

A Johns Hopkins University study found that 75 percent of residential fire deaths and 84 percent of residential fire injuries could have been prevented by smoke detectors.

Most fatal fires occur in residential buildings between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. when occupants are more likely to be asleep.

The City of Olympia Code requires all residential occupancies built after April 1983, and all residences undergoing $1,000 or more of remodeling to have smoke detectors. The construction code mandates installation of hard wire smoke detectors in all apartments built after the same date.

Ionization detectors
Ionization detectors contain radioactive material that ionizes the air, making an electrical path. When smoke enters, the smoke molecules attach themselves to the ions. The change in electric current flow triggers the alarm. The radioactive material is called americium. It's a radioactive metallic element produced by the bombardment of plutonium with high energy neutrons. The amount is very small and not harmful.

Photo-electric detectors
These types of detectors contain a light source (usually a bulb) and a photocell, which is activated by light. Light from the bulb reflects off the smoke particles and is directed towards the photocell. The photocell then is activated to trigger the alarm.

When choosing smoke detector, there are several things to consider. Think about which areas of the house you want to protect, where fire would be most dangerous, and how many you will need.

The safest bet is to have both kinds or a combination detector with a battery backup. Be sure to check for a testing laboratory label on the detector. It means that samples of that particular model have been tested under operating conditions. Check to see if it is easy to maintain and clean. Be sure bulbs and batteries are easy to purchase and convenient to install.

The placement of smoke detectors is very important. Smoke detectors should be placed:

  • Inside each sleeping area
  • In each hallway (2 if longer than 30 feet)
  • On every level of the home, in or near living areas, including the basement
  • At the top of each stairwell
  • Smoke detectors are NOT recommended for kitchens

You can mount many detectors by yourself, but those connected to your household wiring should have their own separate circuit and be installed by a professional electrician. If you mount your detector on the ceiling, be sure to keep it at least 18 inches away from dead air space near walls and corners. If you mount it on the wall, place it 6 to 12 inches below the ceiling and away from corners. Be sure to keep the detector away from fireplaces and wood stoves to avoid false alarms. Keep them high because smoke rises.

Keeping smoke detectors in good condition is easy. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions. Be sure to replace the batteries every year or as needed. Most models will make a chirping or beeping sound when the battery is losing its charge. When this sound is heard, install a fresh battery, preferably an alkaline type.

Apartment living

Special hazards affect those who live in apartments. Download our Apartment Fire Safety Fact Sheet for tips and information on preventing and surviving an apartment fire.


Fire Prevention Division, at 360.753.8348 or