The control and use of fire is what separates humans from the other beasts on the planet.
When we lived in caves we had to figure out ways to keep smoke from killing us and when we moved into wood structures we had to figure out ways to prevent fire from burning the structures down and/or to allow us time to get out.
This whole process has been quite a process and much of the building code is in place to address how to protect us from killing ourselves with fire.
We have actually gotten pretty good at it. The instances of cows kicking over lanterns resulting in the destruction of whole cities seems remote today. Most of our worst nightmares with fire today are due to forest fires---caused by both man and nature.
We have gotten so good at it, that many fire departments complain about a lack of real life situations to adequately train fire-fighters in how to fight fires.
In modern residences one of the first lines of defense in saving lives from fire---after of course building the house and products in the house properly---is the modern smoke alarm/detector.
As a Seattle Home Inspector I routinely find the many precursors to modern smoke alarm/detectors. Some of these early alarm systems were nothing more than wind up bells that would sound when internal components melted. Other systems were electronic---powered by batteries and/or house electricity.
Most of the time these systems have been abandoned.
On a recent inspection I found one such system beautifully intact and supposedly still functional---but who knows. This system had sensors located in every room and were designed to detect excessive temperatures---not smoke. A typical sensor is pictured above. The system itself had a control panel located in the Master Bedroom and would have made one hell of an alarm clock. I am sure that the thinking was that the parents would be the first to be notified of a problem and then they would alert the rest of the household. Of course if it was me I would likely have a heart attack and everyone would perish anyway.
Currently, our modern smoke alarm/detectors have to be in all areas of the home so that everyone is alerted simultaneously---a good idea really.
Even the modern ones can give a person a good startle---literally driving everyone out of the house.
Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector
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WA State, Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board