CBS4, Wayne Township Fire Department put smoke detectors to the test

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- As Indianapolis’ Fire Department kicks off several neighborhood smoke alarm blitzes, another area fire department is pushing for people to check what kind of smoke alarm they have.

A photoelectric alarm goes off when it is interrupted by smoke particles. An ionization detector is a unit better at detecting combustion matter, otherwise known as flames.

Keeping in mind that studies show smoke inhalation is the number one cause in fire deaths, Wayne Township Fire Department and CBS4 put the two types to the test.

First, firefighters lit a slow and smoldering fire. Within minutes, this fire produced a lot of smoke but never any flames. These are the fires that firefighters say are especially deadly. Smoldering fires can incapacitate people while they’re sleeping in the middle of the night.

During this test, it took seven minutes for the photoelectric alarm to go off. We capped our test at 15 minutes. The ionization alarm never sounded.

“A fire with that much smoke can turn deadly within minutes,” Captain Mike Pruitt explained. “They’re inhaling the smoke but they’re also inhaling those toxic gases, the cyanide that comes out.”

Firefighters then lit a garbage can on fire. Within seconds, the flames were huge and both detectors went off.

Essentially, the tests performed as one would expect. What firefighters noted, was that the photoelectric was the more efficient of the two.

“The photoelectric is what we tend to push out there,” Pruitt said.

While stores do sell combination detectors that provide families with both types of sensors, if you are looking to save some money and can only choose one, firefighters say to the photoelectric is the way to go. You’ll notice the packaging for those alarms has a “P” on it. Admittedly, they are more expensive than the ionization alarms.

“However, the more you spend on smoke alarms, the safer your family is going to be,” he added.

Pruitt noted that any smoke alarm is better than no smoke alarm at all. He said families can usually get at least one free smoke alarm from their local fire department.

Meanwhile, neighboring states are taking these statistics seriously. Ohio is the first to consider mandating photoelectric alarms in newly constructed homes and rentals.