Illinois residents will be purchasing new 10-year battery life smoke alarms before a 2023 deadline to comply with the law. Bloomington-Normal residents, however, have the opportunity to grab one for free.
Bloomington and Normal fire departments received smoke alarm donations from First Alert to provide residents with free 10-year battery smoke detectors.
Last year, Illinois saw 114 residential fire deaths and there have been 76 in 2018 alone, most due to smoke detector error.
The new alarms are an update from what Bloomington Fire Public Education Officer Stuart Blade called “the days of the 9-volt battery.” First Alert's 10-year alarms have a battery built into the package.
"The only way you're going to be getting it out is by destroying it or with a hammer, so we don't suggest that," Blade said. "And then once you snap that in, that battery is good for 10 years."
Both Bloomington and Normal fire departments have a supply of smoke detectors to provide to the public for free. Blade said average retail value is around $20, which is half the cost it would be to supply a traditional smoke detector with batteries for 10 years.
Blade said it's common for residents to take the batteries out of their smoke alarms when it sounds under false pretenses. But he said they frequently forget to put the batteries back in.
"These actually come with a silence button, so you can silence the alarm and what will happen is, it will kind of be silenced to that specific nuisance that set it off," Blade said. "However, if more smoke that triggered it, it will actually reactivate itself."
At a presentation announcing the free alarms Thursday at the McLean County Fair, Blade said a video produced by Underwriters Laboratories showed how fire has changed over the years. The video compared a traditionally decorated room, with materials made from cotton, wool, and wood, to a modern room full of synthetic furniture like we see today. After setting a candle on the couch, the traditional room took nearly 30 minutes to be consumed by flames. The modern room took only 3 minutes and 40 seconds.
"We beat the drum of smoke alarms because that's going to save your life. We, at the fire department, we want everyone out before we arrive. Smoke alarms are the way to get that done," Blade said.
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the law in 2017 requiring all smoke detectors to have a 10-year battery life. But, Blade said, there are challenges with enforcing that.
"We don't have a right to come into everyone's home in our community and look in their smoke alarms and see that. Honestly, we're just going on the fact that this is for your family," Blade said. "The only thing you have to do is call us. Why wouldn't you just call us?"
Residents interested in obtaining one of the Bloomington Fire Department's free 10-year smoke alarms can call Blade at (309) 434-2627. Normal residents can call the Normal Fire Department at (309) 454-9622.
Normal Fire Department Public Information Officer Matt Swaney said this First Alert donation was only the first wave and an additional supply will come in the fall.
People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.