Uh, oh-- ions detect toast before it burns

In the Hook's quest to learn more about the ubiquitous but overhyped type of smoke detector now getting worldwide scrutiny, we decided to conduct another test. Although this type–- ionization–- has been widely faulted for its failure (which the Hook witnessed first-hand) to promptly detect smoldering fires, we've been told it actually catches a common kitchen combustion rather quickly. Thus the toast test.

As the video shows, the detector in question, a 7-year-old, hard-wired ionization unit erupted into noisy sirens before we could even spot a wisp of smoke or turn on our video camera. We turned the toaster off a full 28 seconds of cooking time later, and still the toast, as seen in the photo, is barely singed. (We subsequently burned the toast, and the competing technology detector, the photo-electric, soon sounded.)

Prompt detection of kitchen combustion might seem to be a good thing. Nope. According to Adrian Butler, co-founder of the World Fire Safety Foundation, toast-detection lures consumers into trusting their ionization detectors.

"They hear it going off for a little toast," says Butler, "and they think it will protect them from something more serious."

Butler's stance puts him at odds with Underwriters Laboratories, the insurance-backed standards organization that contends that ionization detectors are perfectly safe.

1 comment

I'm not sure I want a smoke detector that goes off every time I make golden brown toast. I suppose that too sensitive is better than not sensitive enough but that sounds extreme.