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Home fires are tragedies that happen to other people, but not to us.

That perception may be fueled because structure fires generally are not as common as they used to be. That's due to stricter fire codes and fireproof building materials.

It's also due in part to fire alarms being standard fixtures in homes. But make no mistake: Fires can and do claim property and lives. And if you don't take the time to replace your fire alarm batteries each year, you're putting you and your family at a higher risk.

The National Fire Protection Association is observing Fire Prevention Week this week with the theme, "Learn the Sounds of Fire Safety."

The theme aims to educate everyone about the different sounds the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms make. Know the differences between your smoke alarm and your carbon monoxide alarm, and know what you will do when you hear them. Sometimes the difference between a quick escape and a tragedy is only seconds of time.

Also, be aware the chirping or beeping sound means it's time to change your alarm batteries. The alarms themselves should be changed at least every 10 years.

The Jefferson City Fire Department said chirping that continues after the battery has been replaced means the alarm is at the end of its life and the unit must be replaced.

"It's important to learn the different sounds of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. When an alarm makes noise — a beeping sound or a chirping sound — you must take action," JCFD Division Chief Jason Turner said. "Make sure everyone in the home recognizes the sounds those alarms make and knows how to respond. To learn the sounds of your specific smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, check the manufacturer's instructions that came with them or search the brand and model online."

The department also said it's important to remember if a fire alarm sounds when you're in a public building, like a hotel, grocery store, or church, you should calmly locate the nearest exit and leave the building.

Over the past few generations, the number of fire deaths has drastically fallen. With a little knowledge, planning and action, we can continue this trend.

News Tribune

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