NFPA Report: 70% Of All Home Fire Deaths Occur In Homes With No Alarms Or No Working Alarms

Quincy, MA – Seventy percent of all home fire fatalities occur in homes where there are no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms, a new report from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has found. Despite a drastic rise in home smoke alarm use over the last 25 years, nearly one-quarter of the home smoke alarms in reported fires are not working.

When home smoke alarms don’t work, it’s mostly because of missing, dead or disconnected batteries. In half of the reported fires where there were no working smoke alarms, batteries were missing or disconnected, and batteries were dead in 15% of these incidents. People too often disconnect or remove batteries because of nuisance activations from cooking or bathroom steam. In many cases, moving a smoke alarm farther away from the kitchen or bathroom can reduce these unwanted activations.

As winter and the holidays approach – with more cooking, heating, candle use and decorating increasing fire risks – NFPA urges consumers to make sure their smoke alarms are working, and to test them in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions, at least once a month. If your smoke alarms are more than 10 years old, you should replace them.

According to NFPA’s report, U.S. Experience with Smoke Alarms and Other Fire Alarms, 19 out of every 20 U.S. homes had at least one smoke alarm. However, four out of 10 home fires that were reported to fire departments in this country occurred in the small percentage of homes that lacked these devices.

Currently, most homes have battery-powered smoke alarms that are not interconnected. Hard-wired smoke alarms with battery back-up are usually a better bet because their power source is more reliable, and when the alarms are interconnected, they can alert everyone in the home if fire strikes. The battery in both these types of smoke alarms needs to be replaced in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions, typically at least once a year. Another good option is the 10-year extended-life, lithium-battery operated device.

NFPA offers these tips for installing, testing and maintaining smoke alarms:

  • Choose a smoke alarm that bears the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of the home and outside all sleeping areas.
  • For added safety, install smoke alarms in every room where people sleep.
  • To increase safety, have a qualified electrician install hard-wired, interconnected smoke alarms so that when one sounds, they all sound.
  • Install a new battery in all smoke alarms at least once a year. Install a new battery immediately if an alarm “chirps” to indicate a low battery.
  • Replace smoke alarms that use extended-life, lithium batteries when the alarm “chirps” or fails to respond to periodic testing. The batteries in these units cannot be replaced.
  • Replace all smoke alarms when they are 10 years old.
  • Test smoke alarms every month. Use the test button, or an approved smoke substitute, and clean the units, according to manufacturer’s instructions. Do not use an open-flame device to test the alarm.
  • Special smoke alarms are made for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. These alarms use strobe lights. Vibrating devices may also help in some cases.

Remember that the smoke alarm sounds only the warning. Develop and practice an escape plan to be sure that all members of your household can safely get out of a fire.

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