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Local firefighters: Installed smoke detectors are safe
Should be tested monthly and maintained well
Annie Austin hands the phone to father Richard Smith Wednesday while Lt. David Stringer with the Gainesville Fire Department performs a routine check on fire alarms inside Smith’s home in Newtown. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Gainesville Fire Department officials say smoke detectors they've been installing are safe, unlike those in Atlanta that were found to be defective.

Kim Martin, the coalition coordinator for Safe Kids Gainesville/Hall County, which organizes a program to install free detectors, said she only buys name-brand detectors from local hardware stores.

"I wouldn't purchase from any other source," she said. "This is something that is very much needed in our community."

Atlanta fire officials say 18,000 defective smoke alarms were distributed as part of the Atlanta Smoke Alarm Program, and authorities have been told they were outfitted with counterfeit certification labels.

Martin said these shouldn't be confused with those given away by Safe Kids.

Since the program began 15 years ago, Martin said they have worked with the Gainesville Fire Department and Hall County Fire Services to distribute and install free smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Last year, the program spent $20,000 and installed 479 smoke alarms and 102 carbon monoxide detectors.

"We identify people that have a need," Gainesville Fire Marshal Jerome Yarbrough said. "We come out to your home and install them. ... When we leave the home, we're sure that smoke detector works. We haven't had any problems since the program started."

Richard Smith, a DeSoto Street resident since 1951, said his home wasn't protected by a smoke detector until the fire department installed one more than a year ago. Since then, they have routinely stopped by to replace batteries and make sure it still works.

"Smoke detectors are the first line of defense," Yarbrough said. "It's going to give you an early warning. ... Most people can just walk out of the house with no effects."

Hall County Fire Marshal Scott Cagle said a working smoke alarm gives residents a 50 percent better chance at survival in the case of a fire.

"Simply put, they save lives," he added.

Too often, however, Yarbrough said detectors don't go off because they were not well maintained or did not have batteries.

Yarbrough advised residents to test detectors monthly, change the batteries every six months and if it's more than 10 years old, buy a new one.

"Smoke detectors are a mechanical device," he said. "They're only as good as the (tests and maintenance) run on them. ... Don't sacrifice your smoke detector for the remote control — that battery is very important."

Associated Press contributed to this report.