On March 13, most Americans will “spring forward” for daylight saving, giving the winter-weary a much needed extra hour of sunlight. While clocks are being turned ahead in anticipation of brighter days, fire departments and fire safety organizations across the country urge people to use this day to test the batteries in their smoke alarms.

Smoke alarms are typically the first line of defense against a fire, providing a critical early warning and allowing residents additional time to escape. According to the National Fire Protection Association, nearly two-thirds of home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.

“Whether you own a home or are renting, checking and replacing batteries at least once a year can mean the difference between a tragedy and a safe escape,” said Steve Johnson, senior vice president, Claims, Assurant Specialty Property.

The National Fire Protection Association also offers important smoke alarm tips to keep in mind year-round, advising people to:

  • Place smoke alarms both on the inside and outside of every bedroom.
  • Install smoke alarms on every floor of the residence, including the basement and attic.
  • Use interconnected smoke alarms, so when one alarm sounds, they all sound.
  • Test all smoke alarms monthly.
  • Mount smoke alarms on the ceiling or on a wall, as near to the ceiling as possible.
  • Keep smoke alarms at least 10 feet away from the stove to reduce false alarms.
  • Utilize special alarms, such as strobe lights and bed shakers, for people who are hearing impaired.
  • Replace smoke alarms that have reached 10 years old.

According to the organization, a quick escape from a home fire depends on advance warning, but also advance planning. A home fire escape plan should be practiced by all occupants before a fire emergency; outline all possible exits and designate an outside meeting place.

In addition to testing smoke alarms, the U.S Fire Administration recommends that homeowners and renters use a fire safety checklist to properly check their homes for other potential hazards, such as:

  • Carbon monoxide detectors that are older than seven years
  • Broken or cut electrical cords
  • Flammable items near cooking surfaces
  • Candles in containers that can be tipped over