Jon is standing over the stovetop watching his dulche de leche finish heating. The dish is simmering perfectly inside its pot. This is nearly a three hour process. Moments before it’s complete, he’s rudely interrupted.

The smoke alarm is howling. It incorrectly identified the dessert as an emergency situation. (Though overcooking dulche de leche is.)

Does Jon fumble with a stool to stand on so he can turn the alarm off, but risk damaging his delicacy? Or does he endure the siren in the name of pastry?

He doesn’t even have a choice. Within moments the fire department has responded. And Jon doesn’t have near enough dessert for his unintentional guests.

Preventative Measures

U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 2.1 million false alarms

According to a study by the NFPA in 2009, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 2.1 million false alarms, 45% of those unintentional activations, and 32% occurred due to system malfunction (the rest were malicious or mischievous.)  Departments went to 16 false alarms for every 10 fires, and 45 false alarms for every 10 structure fires.

This is highly problematic. Fire department’s across the country are facing decreases in funding and staffing, and they must deal with increased calls due to aiding emergency medical and hazardous situations.

Let’s help the fire departments across the U.S–and our friend Jon–by eliminating false alarm responses all together. Here’s how:

Cover Up for Cleanliness

Make sure the cover and sensor chamber are protected and aren’t clogged by dust, dirt, or insects trapped inside. Alarms need to be cleaned once every six months. Even if detectors look clean, they may not be.

To clean, place the device on test and turn the siren off. Remove the unit from the mounting base and take out the batteries. Blow out the device and use a soft-bristled brush to remove dust and dirt.

Always Tight

Wires that aren’t tight could lead to a trigger or shut off completely. Tighten up all of the wires, and if you don’t know how, contact an electrician for assistance.

Watch out for Interruptions

A power interruption (utility company switching power grids) can set off a false alarm. Be aware of any power changes.

Connect Alarms Separately

If alarms are interconnected, a unit in a separate part of the home may trigger a false alarm. Keep alarms on separate electrical circuits.

Stay Away from Triggers

Place alarms away from furnaces, ovens, or any area with exhaust gasses or open flame heating systems like oil and gas furnaces. Garages, workrooms, or living rooms are culprits.

Steer clear of cold air returns, humid areas, or construction zones that may omit dust.

Proper Placing

Set alarms at least 10 feet from air changes and 20 feet from appliances. Ensure the detector is at least four inches from the corner of a wall if you’re mounting on a ceiling, and at least four inches, but no more than 12 from the corner if you are mounting on a wall.

In both scenarios the detector should be at least 36 inches away from air intakes, air outlets, heating sources and bathrooms. Forced air or steam can cause a false alarm.

Full Power

Low battery is a common cause of false alarm. Replace your batteries twice a year and you’ll prevent some unnecessary chirping.

Frequent Tests

Alarms need to be fired up every now and again to make sure they’re working properly. Test at least once a month and after cleaning. Replace a detector that is 10 years or older.

Why It Matters

Roughly 20 percent of all alarms installed in the US have been disarmed.

False alarms are the leading cause of occupants disabling their alarms. According to Strategic Fire, roughly 20 percent of all alarms installed in the US have been disarmed.

Disarming an alarm can be fatal. They alert users of potential smoke or fire issues, but also keep users aware of deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.

Most importantly, if you’re catching some “zzz’s,” safety is priority. Strategic Fire via a U.S. Fire Administration study tells us that 50% of fire fatalities in residential buildings occur between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. when people are asleep.

It’s imperative for your safety and fire department resources to prevent false alarms.