Smoke Alarms, Anyone?

Outdated smoke alarm.
Out of date smoke alarm.

The time changed. You changed your clocks. Did you change the battery in smoke alarm?

Also important, how old is your smoke alarm? They need to be replaced after 10 year. If the manufacturing date (on the back) is 10 or more years ago, or it has a date code or no indication at all, REPLACE IT!

I am a fire investigator. I have investigated a lot of fatal fires, but never one where there was one or more working smoke alarms in the home.

It was a very good month!

January was a fantastic month for me. I was invited to join the National Academy of Forensic Engineers. I was accepted on ASTM’s Committee on E58 Forensic Sciences. Most importantly I testified in a criminal trial and helped to keep an innocent person out of prison.  I alway told people that my job as a fire investigator is to help save lives, but always though it be in a very intangible sort of way.  I never imagined it could be so immediate, direct or dramatic.

Dangerous Effects of Water on Appliances and Electronics

We have just witnessed Hurricane Irma, one of the worst storms to ever hit Florida, following Harvey, one of the worst storms ever to hit Texas. My wife and I were very lucky. Our home and businesses are intact. What little damage we had is trivial. Others were far less fortunate. Their homes were severely damaged or destroyed and it will take weeks, months or sometimes even years to recover.

One of the myriad of issues following a hurricane is water intrusion and water damage, specifically related to electrical and electronic fixtures, appliances and equipment. During a hurricane the contents of a home or building can be exposed to water by submersion in storm surge, a downpour through a rough roof or wall breach, or even small amounts of water through leaking windows and doors. The old adage about not mixing water and electricity holds true not only during the storm, but long after as well.

Most electrical devices (also including electronic items) were not designed for, nor were ever intended to be exposed to water. Water acts as a catalyst for corrosion of metals. It helps to speed up the oxidation of metals that would normally occur very slowly in air. Water containing impurities, such as salts, can accelerate oxidation much more. Water containing impurities, in the presence of an electrical current, can exponentially speed up oxidation to the point where we can watch metal conductors corrode and erode right before our very eyes.

As electrical conductors corrode, their resistance to carrying an electrical current increases. When resistance in the circuit increases,  energy lost is overcoming the resistance, and that energy is converted into heat.  Heat also speeds up the corrosion of metals.

This is the crux of the problem. Water causes corrosion in electrical circuits. Corrosion creates resistance, resulting in heating of the circuit, which causes additional more corrosion. The cycle of heat and corrosion can continue to the point where the conductors become hot enough to ignite surrounding materials.  Left unchecked, the electrical or electronic device can be the start point of a fire.

An electrical short on a circuit board caused by water intrusion.
Short on a printed circuit board caused by exposure to water.

This is particularly true where conductors are joined by mechanical means such as a cord plugged into wall receptacle, at wire nuts inside of junction boxes, or push on wire terminals inside of appliances.

When it comes to electrical and electronic components, “sitting it out to dry” may not be enough. Corrosion may have already occurred before any attempt was made to power up the device. Water and contaminants can work their way into microscopic crevices that can never be fully dried or cleaned. A device or appliance may appear to be OK and work satisfactorily after sitting out in the sun for a few days. The reality, however, is that it could be a incendiary time bomb waiting to go off weeks, months or even years after the storm.

Here’s the bottom line.  If it’s been wet or underwater, have the device or appliance professionally cleaned and dried.  If it’s not worth the cost of professional services, you’re probably better off getting rid of it.

And please consider recycling your devices instead of sending them to a landfill!

Is St. Petersburg Going Solar?

According to an article today in the Tampa Bay Times, there is currently a proposal in the St. Pete city council to make solar power mandatory on new home construction and major renovations.  If passed, it would make St. Pete the second city in Florida to require solar power, after South Miami.

Solar Panel, Solar Energy, Solar Power, Solar Power Fire
Solar Panels at a Solar Farm

As with the introduction of any new technology, there is the potential for unforeseen consequences, and misunderstanding and mistrust of that new technology.  That’s why we work to keep abreast of emerging trends in material and energy engineering.  If you have a fire that might involve solar power, wind power, Li-ion batteries or anything else “New and Improved”, give us a call!



Latest Fire Related Consumer Product Recalls


Living Traditions Mini Barrel Charcoal Grill
Name of product:  Mini barrel charcoal grills
Hazard:  The exterior paint on the grill can ignite, posing a fire hazard.


Children’s two-piece woven pajama sets

The children’s pajamas fail to meet the federal flammability standards for children’s sleepwear, posing a risk of burn injuries to children.


Hazard:  The children’s robes fail to meet federal flammability standards for children’s sleepwear, posing a risk of burn injuries to children.

Latest Vehicle Fire Related Recalls

(RJ Meier photo)

Transportation Collaborative, Inc. has recalled an unspecified number of 2012-2017 Transtech Buses.
Certain vehicles equipped air conditioning utilize a 30AMP in-line fuse holder, the fuse holder may overheat and cause a fire.

Honda (American Honda Motor Co.) is recalling (193) 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid vehicles.
The affected vehicles have an engine fuel feed hose and a fuel purge hose that may have been misrouted during vehicle assembly, creating a fire hazard.

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling (4) 2017 Ram 1500 trucks. The fuel tanks in these vehicles may have a broken fuel tank control valve which might leak fuel in a roll-over, failing to comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 301, “Fuel System Integrity.”

Honda (American Honda Motor Co.) is recalling (24127) 2017 Honda CR-V 2WD and AWD vehicles. The affected vehicles have a fuel supply pipe that may crack, which leak fuel and create a fire hazard.