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Special Report: New smoke alarm standards will end annoying alarms

(CBS 58) -- Smoke alarms are so vital to our safety that local fire departments will often go door-to-door checking and installing them for free.

Now, this spring, after years of research and testing at Underwriters Laboratories in Northbrook, IL, new alarms are on the market with new standards and one big difference we'll all notice, the end of nuisance alarms.

"You're cooking in your kitchen, you're burning toast or the burger burnt a little. It wasn't a fire. But that alarm started going off." said UL vice president of corporate social responsibility Barb Guthrie. 

Those false alarms sometimes lead to deadly decisions.

"People either waved the air to get it, opened the window, or, unfortunately, took out the batteries," said Guthrie. "And by taking out the batteries, you are disabling a life-saving device. There is no smoke alarm in your home if the batteries are not in it."

"They'll often times take the alarm off the wall or take the battery out," said Milwaukee Fire Department Lt. Michael Ball. "Then the smoke goes away and people forget to put the battery back in."

According to the National Fire Protection Association, 3 in 5 fire deaths happen in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.

Guthrie says her UL researchers were studying the properties of smoke itself. Alarms with the new standards can break down the components of smoke and sense its true danger.

That research led to the new standards, which led to the new 'multi-criteria smoke detectors.' The detectors know what kind of smoke it is which helps UL address the number one issue, consumer behavior.

"It doesn't go off when you accidentally burn your popcorn or your toast. We avoid nuisance tripping," said Guthrie. "Clients don't start to wave at it and take out the batteries."

The alarms are available soon, likely in the $15 range, from different manufacturers. All of them tested by UL. The standards will be mandatory by 2020.

When we install these new alarms, we'll need to retrain ourselves. When this alarm goes off, there is no second-guessing.

"When you hear the alarm," Guthrie said. "The only thing you need to know is get down, get out and stay out."

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