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Maryland updates smoke alarm law

July 07, 2013|By HOLLY SHOK | holly.shok@herald-mail.com

An update to state law that requires residential battery-operated smoke alarms to be replaced with ones having long-life, sealed-in batteries by 2018 went into effect July 1.

The change is a result of cleaning up sections of the fire laws of Maryland that had been in place for 38 years, Deputy State Fire Marshal Bruce D. Bouch said last week.

The law stipulates that homeowners replace battery-operated alarms that are at the end of their 10-year lifespan or once they reach the end of their 10-year lifespan with a unit powered by a 10-year sealed-in battery.

The law stipulates existing residential occupancies make the upgrade by Jan. 1, 2018. However, Bouch said enforcement primarily will be through the sale of a home.

“It’s not something we’re going to be running out to every house and looking at,” Bouch said.

The sealed-in battery alarms feature a “hush button” for homeowners to press when the alarm sounds in a nonemergency situation, such as the accidental burning of toast, Bouch said.

The law only applies to battery-operated smoke alarms, and not to smoke alarms wired into walls, Bouch said.

“More than 800,000 Maryland homes use battery-operated smoke alarms, and we can’t emphasize enough the importance of upgrading those smoke alarms to help ensure families have working alarms in case of a home fire,” Bouch said in a news release. “By sealing the battery inside the alarm, the unit becomes tamper-resistant and removes the burden from consumers to remember to change batteries, which will save lives.”

According to the law, in new residential units built after July 1, at least one smoke alarm must “be installed in each sleeping room, in the hallway or common area outside of sleeping rooms, and in the hallway or common area on each level within a residential dwelling unit, including basements and excluding specified unoccupied spaces such as attics.”

According to Bouch, upon investigation of a fire, a homeowner must comply with a “smoke alarm installation order” within five calendar days, and a violator is guilty of a misdemeanor and “on conviction subject to a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and/or 10 days imprisonment.”

Hagerstown Fire Marshal Doug DeHaven said the Hagerstown Fire Department has been campaigning for smoke alarms with sealed-in batteries for the past several years. 

The department visits a section of residences in the city each spring to check for smoke alarms and to install them were there are none, using the sealed-in-battery version.

In a five-year span, the department attempts to visit every home within the city, DeHaven said last week. 

Maryland residential fire fatalities have increased this year compared to last, Bouch said, noting there have been 16 more residential fire fatalities than this time last year.

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