Four of every ten home fire deaths resulted from fires with no smoke alarms in 2003-2006, according to a new report,Smoke Alarms in U.S. Home Fires, released last week by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

“Smoke alarms are one of the greatest fire protection devices of our time and have significantly contributed to the decline in home fire fatalities since the late 70’s,” said James M. Shannon, president of NFPA. “But it’s not enough to randomly put up one smoke alarm and forget about it. In addition to placing smoke alarms in recommended areas, they must be kept in good working order, which includes testing them monthly, changing batteries at least once a year, and making sure that they are not disconnected.”

Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in reported home structure fires in half. The 2007 edition ofNFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code®requires smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level. They should also be interconnected so that when one sounds, they all sound.

Other key findings fromSmoke Alarms in U.S. Home Fires:
  • Smoke alarm failures usually result from missing, disconnected or dead batteries.
  • In one-fifth of all homes with smoke alarms, none were working.
  • Most homes still have smoke alarms powered by batteries only.
  • People 55 or older were more likely to have smoke alarms that were more than 10 years old. (Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years.)
  • More than half of home fire deaths that occurred where no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms were present happened between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.
  • The death rate per 1,000 reported fires is 84% lower when hardwired smoke alarms and wet pipe sprinklers are present.
According to NFPA approximately 3,000 people a year die in home fires. “This report reinforces the importance of smoke alarms in saving lives and identifies the way to further reduce that number through the installation of home fire sprinklers,” said Shannon. “It is not acceptable to say 3,000 deaths are okay when we know we can do better.” NFPA offers the following tips for smoke alarms.
  • Choose a smoke alarm that bears the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Install a smoke alarm in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of your home, including the basement.
  • Interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
  • Replace batteries in all smoke alarms at least once a year. If an alarm “chirps,” warning the battery is low, replace the battery right away.
  • Replace all smoke alarms, including alarms that use 10-year batteries and hard-wired alarms, when they are 10 years old or sooner if they do not respond properly when tested.
  • Test your smoke alarms at least every month, using the test button or an approved smoke substitute and clean the units, in accordance with the manufacturers’ instructions.
  • An ionization smoke alarm is generally more responsive to flaming fires and a photoelectric smoke alarm is generally more responsive to smoldering fires. For the best protection, both types of alarms, or a combination alarm (photoelectric and ionization), should be installed in homes.
  • Be sure that all doors and windows that lead outside open easily and that everyone in the home knows the escape plan.
  • Consider home fire sprinklers when building a new home or doing a major renovation. more information and to see video with basic smoke alarm safety tips.