Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

This weekend, think batteries

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Greg Peck
Friday, March 7, 2014

Daylight-saving time begins Sunday morning, so set your clocks ahead one hour before you go to bed Saturday night. It's not just your clocks you should be thinking about, however.

Fire departments and safety officials for years have been urging people to change the batteries in their smoke detectors the weekend daylight-saving time begins, as well. Today is payday, so batteries will be on my grocery-shopping list for this weekend.

However, batteries for smoke detectors aren't the only ones you should be thinking about. You likely need batteries in your carbon monoxide (CO) detector even if it's plugged in.

When my wife and I drove north last week to visit my parents, we hadn't been there an hour before the phone rang. Yep, it was my sister, who lives nearby. She wanted to talk to me and said she was concerned that Mom and Dad only had one CO detector in their home. They need one on each level, she said, especially when they so often fire up their wood-burner. She told me that one started chirping and our 83-year-old father had put it in the garage. He didn't understand the noise, not realizing that even though it was plugged into an electrical socket, it had a battery inside. He later apparently tossed the unit in the trash.

Last Friday, we went to a hardware store to buy another one. I pointed out that even though it plugs in, it has a spot for a battery inside. He asked: “Why would you need that?”

Well, I suggested, what if an ice storm knocks out power, your furnace thus doesn't start, and you decide to use some other means to warm your home? I reminded him of the 13 people who were overcome by carbon monoxide in Trempealeau County last month when they ran out of propane and used a charcoal grill to keep their house warm.

“Why would anyone be that foolish?” Dad asked.

Well, I also reminded him, decades ago people routinely heated their homes by burning coal in furnaces. Sure, Dad, said, but those were properly vented. Yes, I countered, but people desperate for a fuel source might not remember that.

ReadyWisconsin cites a federal safety report that estimates about 16 million U.S. homes have smoke alarms that don't work because the batteries are dead or missing. Until last weekend, my parents were among them—one smoke detector didn't have a battery, probably because it started chirping and Dad removed it without remembering to replace it.

Those people in Trempealeau County narrowly escaped death, but ReadyWisconsin also cites federal statistics that say more than 200 people die of carbon monoxide in the U.S. every year. Just yesterday, I heard an emergency call on our newsroom scanner about two people overcome by CO. This weekend, set your clocks ahead, replace your smoke detector batteries and go buy a carbon monoxide detector for each level of your home—and if you already have them, replace the batteries if they come so equipped.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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