Whanganui fire chief Gary Ward knows first-hand the importance of having working smoke alarms.

As Fire and Emergency New Zealand urges people to check and test their smoke alarms to coincide with the end of daylight saving, Mr Ward has shared his experience of the effectiveness of home smoke alarms.

Mr Ward awoke one night to the sound of the smoke alarm and discovered a pillow had caught fire in his teenage son's room. His son had accidentally knocked over a touch-sensitive light during his sleep and it fell onto a pillow, igniting it.

Mr Ward was able to put out the fire and ensure his son was safe.

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"Afterwards when I was thinking about what had happened, I realised that if [the house] hadn't had those working smoke alarms, me or my son may not have woken up," he said.

"As a firefighter I've spent years teaching people about the importance of smoke alarms; however, this just goes to show that fires can happen to anyone. We felt we were a safety conscious family with a safe house. The lesson for me is that everyone has to be prepared for fire by having working smoke alarms and an escape plan; it may well save your family."

Last year crews responded to a total of 3143 fires at residential homes throughout New Zealand, but only 1569 of those homes were recorded as having smoke alarms.

Fire and Emergency's principal advisor for risk management, Mike Shaw, says working smoke alarms save lives, giving people an early alert to a fire in their home and the best chance of escaping alive.

"As we approach daylight saving, it's a good reminder for people to check they have smoke alarms installed and to test their batteries are working and check the alarm's expiry date," he said.

"A lot of people don't realise most smoke alarms expire after 10 years so they need to replace them.

"When you're asleep you generally won't wake up if there's a fire because once you start breathing in the toxic smoke, you go into a deeper sleep."

Fire and Emergency New Zealand recommends using long-life photoelectric smoke alarms.