of 1997, 15 of every 16 (94%) U.S. homes had at least one smoke alarm.
However, 1997 fire data show that 38% of the home fires reported to
U.S. fire departments and 51% of the home fire deaths still occurred
in the now small share of homes with no smoke alarms. In three of every
ten reported fires in smoke alarm-equipped homes, the devices didnít
work. Smoke alarms did not sound in half of the fire deaths that resulted
from fires in homes equipped with these devices. Thus, more than two-fifths
of the home fires and only one in four home fire deaths occurred in
homes in which smoke alarms sounded.
with smoke alarms (whether or not the alarms were operational) typically
have a death rate that is about 40-50% less than the rate for homes
1992, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission sent surveyors to
people's homes to find out how common smoke alarms were and what portion
of these devices were working in the general population's homes. In
one of every five homes that had at least one smoke alarm installed,
not a single one was working. This is a smaller share than what is seen
in homes with reported fires, but it is still too high. When homes without
smoke alarms are added to homes with only non-working alarms, we see
that one-quarter of U.S. households do not have the protection of even
one working smoke alarm.
households without smoke alarms are slightly more likely to be poor,
non-white or headed by an adult over 65 years old, the principal common
feature is a much greater tendency to have reported fires. Households
with smoke alarms can discover and control a larger share of the fires
they have without involving the fire department. This influences the
statistics. The usual socioeconomic factors correlated with fire risk
are less useful as predictors of smoke alarm usage.
alarm failures usually result from dead, missing or disconnected batteries.
smoke alarms donít work, it is usually because the batteries are dead,
disconnected or missing. People are most likely to remove or disconnect
batteries because of nuisance activations. People need to test the alarm
every month to make sure the batteries are still working and to replace
the battery every year.
the percentage of smoke alarms that are non-working has leveled off,
so the percentage of households with at least one working smoke alarm
has followed an upward trend in most years. This is encouraging.
to ensure that smoke alarms continue to work after installation have
not been evaluated in the field, but wired-in (or hard-wired) systems
do not need new batteries (except for back-up in power outages), do
not permit removal of their primary power sources for use elsewhere,
and are statistically much less susceptible to power source interruptions.
At present, most homes have battery-powered smoke alarms, which are
not interconnected. A single station smoke alarm may not be heard on
other floors or in other rooms.
Learn Not to Burn® Foundation's Technical Advisory Council issued
these recommendations in 1989 and 1991 for the testing and maintenance
of smoke alarms:
new batteries in all smoke alarms once a year on the day you change
your clock from daylight to standard time or when the alarm chirps
to warn that the battery is dying.
all batteries immediately upon moving into a new home.
units monthly, in accordance with NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm
Code. Test the units using the test button or an approved smoke
substitute, and clean the units, both in accordance with the manufacturers'
instructions. Do not use an open-flame device for testing because
of the danger the flame could pose.
households with smoke alarms that donít work now outnumber the households
with no alarms by a substantial margin. Any program to ensure adequate
protection must include smoke alarm maintenance. Although most homes
have at least one smoke alarm, many homes do not have a unit on every
floor. Also, many people forget that a smoke alarmís sole function is
to sound the warning. People need to develop and practice escape plans
so that if the alarm sounds, they can get out quickly. Because smoke
alarms alert occupants to fires that are still relatively small, some
people attempt to fight these fires themselves. Unfortunately, some
of these attempts are unsuccessful, either due to rapid fire spread
or inappropriate methods of fire control. Meanwhile, precious escape
time is lost.
and alarm systems are also needed in many occupancies other than homes.
Public assembly properties, store and office properties, and storage
properties stand out as occupancies where the majority of fires occur
in places without smoke or heat alarms and more than one-fifth of the
units present are estimated to be non-operational when fire occurs.