TN engineers working on new type of smoke detector

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If there's a fire at your house, one thing can make a difference between life and death. Firefighters say, time and time again, smoke detectors save lives.

But many people admit to taking out the batteries or turning off the power to their smoke detector, if it starts its shrill beeping over some burnt food.

"That's bad, because, typically, they'll forget to put it back in or during the time that it's out, they don't have any protection. They don't have a way to know if it's a fire," said Nashville Fire Department spokeswoman Kim Lawson.

Now, something developed in Tennessee could fix the common complaint about those alarms.

Two thirds of fire deaths could have been prevented by functioning alarms, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Bruce Warmack of Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory is trying to change that. He has designed a new smoke alarm that he says is smarter and more efficient.

The new alarm uses special sensors and an algorithm, to measure heat, not just smoke, so it can sense the difference between a little burnt food and real danger. Warmack also says the alarm can detect a slow-burning, smoldering fire up to 30 minutes sooner than the old detectors.

So far, you can't buy them anywhere, but Warmack and his team are working with manufacturers to get them on store shelves

"It's all great. We're hopeful that it stays very cost effective and cheap enough, so that people can actually purchase these, and use them in their homes," Warmack said.

Firefighters and designers alike hope it will change smoke detectors, as we've known them for decades, and, in turn, save lives.

"I'd love to have a hand in saving a few lives, and this has a really good potential of doing that," Warmack said.

The new alarm also features a carbon monoxide detector, and an alert that sounds at a lower frequency. That tone, designers say, is more effective at waking up kids and the elderly.

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