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A Lifesaving Routine

October 25, 2003

No one can say whether smoke detectors would have saved Zelina Rendon's life. The 3 a.m. fire that killed her started in the den directly below the bedroom where she slept. Smoke might well have suffocated the 43-year-old developmentally disabled woman before it triggered an alarm.

But Rendon's death in La Palma this month could be a lifesaving reminder to others to install smoke alarms, check the batteries in them and test the devices regularly.

The time change Sunday, as daylight saving time ends, and the corresponding restoration in April are points that fire officials recommend for checking the batteries and operability of smoke alarms.

These are easy times to remember, what with having to go around the house changing clocks.

By now, smoke alarms have been installed in most U.S. homes, according to the National Fire Protection Assn. But in a third of cases, the devices aren't working, usually because the batteries have died or because people have disabled the detectors, annoyed by false alarms or a chirping alert. Some are unaware that the chirping is a smoke detector's way of signaling a fading battery.

Eighty percent of deaths from residential fires are in homes without working smoke alarms. Earlier this year, such a fire claimed the lives of a 25-year-old woman and her three children in Kentucky. Four people died Thursday in a Carson home where two wall brackets for smoke detectors were empty.

In 2002, a home fire in Placentia killed a doting father and his three young sons; a broken smoke alarm had been taken down and never replaced. The year before that, 11 members of the same family perished in a Delaware fire. The batteries had been removed from the home's smoke detectors.

No number of annoying false alarms makes the risk of living without smoke detectors worthwhile.

Make it a habit when you change the clocks twice a year to check smoke detectors, usually by pushing a button on the face. Or perhaps buy and install new detectors. Who knows how many extra days of light that might bring into your life?

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