What keeps our houses and apartments from burning down? Not setting fire to things helps, of course, but what else? Smoke alarms. We entrust the safety of our homes to these small, innocuous devices all the time, but for one man from Colorado, it was his preventative measures that initiated disaster.
The batteries inside his smoke alarm set his house on fire.
Since his family’s unexpected ordeal, David Miller has made it his mission to educate others about the danger he had no idea existed. His message could save your home, and even your family.
Miller’s beautiful home in Fort Collins, Colorado, went up in flames on April 21, 2011. A panicked Miller called 911.
“I have a fire. I need a fire department here,” he said, as relayed in an informational video on Miller’s YouTube channel, “Kids And Character.” The 911 operator then asked whether the fire was inside Miller’s residence, before advising the panic-stricken homeowner to hang up and evacuate immediately.
He evacuated. Miller’s wife, Janet, was in a work meeting when the fire broke out. Her colleague rushed into the room and told her, “Janet, there’s an emergency at home. You need to call home right away.”
The Millers’ home was destroyed. And the culprit? An ordinary, standard, used-up 9-volt battery from an old smoke detector. “I never thought in a million years, that could be the cause of the fire,” Miller admitted to Inside Edition.
Miller had always tossed old batteries into a paper bag in his garage without a second thought. He would recycle them once they had accumulated. Later, Miller learned what had really happened.
“When I set a laundry basket on the shelf next to these, it bumped the bag,” he explained. “The two batteries touched together and shorted the terminals, and that’s what burned down my house.”
The internet’s self-proclaimed “definitive fact-checking resource,” Snopes, clarified further. “A 9-volt battery is a fire hazard,” they explained, “because the positive and negative posts are on top, right next to one another.” If these posts come into contact with anything metal, they continued, citing aluminum foil and brillo as examples, the posts will spark.
If the spark is fuelled, then a fire will ensue. “To test this theory,” they offered, “put a 9-volt battery or a couple of AA batteries in your pocket with some loose change. This will bring on a whole new meaning to the words ‘hot pants,'” they wrote. But perhaps just take our word for it.
It’s all well and good knowing how used batteries can cause a fire, but how do we prevent this from happening? Here are some top tips for the safe storage and disposal of batteries in your home.
Keep all batteries in their original packaging up until the moment you wish to use them. If the batteries are already loose, then cover over the exposed two posts with masking, duct, or electrical tape. This will stop the posts from sparking on any metal objects that may come into close proximity.
Store the batteries somewhere safe and out of reach, where they won’t move around and create friction. Always store batteries standing upright, and don’t keep them loose in a drawer. Additionally, as tempting as it may be to keep an “everything drawer” in your home (admittedly, most of us do), be sure not to store your batteries in drawers or containers alongside other batteries.
Remember, tape over the exposed posts of each battery before throwing it away; batteries are not regular trash. Don’t toss them anywhere that they could come into contact with other batteries or metals. In fact, go the extra mile for the sake of your home and loved ones and take 9-volt batteries to a specialized collection site for hazardous household waste.
It is actually illegal to dispose of batteries with regular trash in some states, so check with your local authority for the rules in your area.
“I feel very responsible for what happened to my family,” Miller admitted in his frank informational video. What Miller didn’t know then is what you do know now, however, so do right by your loved ones and dispose of batteries safely!