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Smoke detector safety tips for homes in rural Alaska

Dillingham fire dept. coordinator Scott Runzo. Sept. 16, 2022.
Izzy Ross
Dillingham Fire Dept. Coordinator Scott Runzo. Sept. 16, 2022.

Dillingham Fire Dept.'s Laticia Swift came in on May 3 to talk about the importance of smoke detectors — and how to best set them up in your home. She said a few simple things, like installing smoke detectors and closing bedroom doors when you sleep, are among the best ways to save lives in the event of a house fire.

Read more at the National Fire Protection Association

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Izzy Ross: Today I have a guest from the fire department with me. Laticia Swift is an EMS prevention officer. Thank you for coming in on this snowy Wednesday. What are we talking about today?

Laticia Swift: We are going to talk a little bit about smoke detectors and how to be a little bit extra fire safe even in the springtime.

Ross: Right. Just because it's snowing doesn't mean that you shouldn't take some extra steps to make sure that you're safe, and that if there is a fire, you know that it's happening. And obviously smoke detectors are a great way to do that, but can you talk a little bit more about why that specifically is important?

Swift: Yeah, for sure. So we have the slogan: If you hear the beep get out. And it's very true.

If anyone goes onto the fire department Facebook page, they'll notice that on the first of every month, we have a reminder that pops up that says, 'Check for the beep.' That's because you really are supposed to check your smoke detector batteries to make sure that they're working at least once a month. When people don't have properly working smoke detectors in their house or no smoke detectors in their house, the likelihood that there is going to be a catastrophic or fatal event in house fire is exponential.

We like to remind people that you don't have to have smoke detectors everywhere in your house. But realistically, the National Fire Academy, they suggest that if you are only ever going to have one or two smoke detectors in your house, you have them right outside the bedrooms. So if you have a hallway that has two bedrooms that split off on each side, put a smoke detector in the center, right there between the two bedrooms. If your house has bedrooms that are kind of separated, we really like to suggest that you have a smoke detector outside of every bedroom.

The other thing that's really hard in rural Alaska is a lot of our homes are heated with wood stoves, or with a Toyo, which means a lot of us sleep with our bedroom doors open. And if it's a possibility, sleeping with your door closed is always the best practice. Doors happen to create a really great fire barrier.

Read more about fire safety at Close Your Door

Ross: That's all very helpful information. I definitely do not check my smoke detectors every month to see if the batteries are still working. But I might start doing that now. I'd love to hear a little bit more about the placement of smoke detectors. You know, oftentimes, as you mentioned, living in a pretty small apartment myself, the smoke detector will just go off when we're cooking, and that can get kind of frustrating... Are there any ways to prevent that or what should people do if they are getting fed up with their smoke detectors just going off when you're cooking or doing other activities like that?

Swift: I will be the first to admit that I set off the smoke alarm and my house more often than not, I'm pretty terrible at cooking. I can do it well sometimes. So I fully understand someone who has a smoke detector goes off a lot.

If you're gonna have one outside of your kitchen highest point on the ceiling so anywhere that you put a smoke detector it should be nice and high up. The whole reason is is because smoke does tend to drift up before it starts to come down, so it will fill the tallest cavities first and then it will start to come down to floor level. So put your smoke detector as high as you possibly can in your house. Again, outside the bedroom doors is 100% totally fine with having a smoke detector at that place only in your house is still completely safe.

A lot of people put them in their kitchens and then you have the issue of — you overcooked popcorn or maybe fried chicken didn't go as well as it was supposed to.

So if your smoke detector is constantly going off when you are cooking, it actually might just be time to replace your smoke detector. The cheapest option is going to be replaced the battery first. Once you get the battery put back and your smoke detectors should beep to let you know. And then we always suggest that you hit the test button which should be up towards the center of the smoke detector and you hit that you're just going to push on it until it goes off and that resets your smoke detector and lets you know that it's working. After you do those two things, if you're still having the issue of it constantly going off, try replacing your smoke detector. If it's still going off after that cooking lessons are always great.

Ross: For folks who are interested in getting smoke detector, where can they do that?

Swift: So smoke detectors can be purchased at AC, L&M. And Bigfoot also has them. I have smoke detectors in my house from Amazon. You can get them from Target, you can get them [at] first, American smoke Fire Prevention has them. And then in September, the fire department is going to do a smoke detector battery change out and everything like that again. We did that last year. And we are hoping to be able to get smoke detectors to be able to give away to the public. And so if that goes through, then we will let KDLG know and we'll put it on the city website and the fire department's Facebook page. And then that way we can give you at least one smoke detector in your house. There's lots of places that you can buy them, they will ship them here and you don't have to get the really really really fancy ones a $10 smoke detector works just as well as $150 smoke detector.

Ross: And where can people find out more? Can they contact the fire department? Or is there a different website specifically for smoke detector information?

Swift: So the local contact is definitely going to be the fire department. Please do not call the emergency number for it. But [call] 907-842-2288. Or we're in the blue building that says 'Dillingham Fire and EMS.' It's right next to Tide Table, so if you want to stop in and grab some coffee, and then swing by the fire department, we're there Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m - 5 p.m. We have handouts and everything like that, that we can give people. has really great information on not just natural disasters and whatnot, but they do have a lot of really great information on health and safety tips, whether it's more on the medical side or more on the fire side. It's a really great resource and they've got really great things that you can use to talk to your kids about fire safety as well, which is also very important.

Read more of FEMA's information on home fires

Ross: Laticia Swift, thank you so much for taking a few minutes to talk today.

Swift: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Get in touch with the author at or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.