Report: NFPA's "Smoke Alarms in U.S. Home Fires" (PDF, 1 MB)
Author: Marty Ahrens
Report includes statistics on home smoke alarm usage, effectiveness, operationality, and home fire fatalities in fires with and without working smoke alarms. Also includes home fire death rate with different combinations of fire protection equipment. Brief discussion of literature on audibility and waking effectiveness.
Smoke alarms provide a critical early warning of fire, allowing additional time to escape. National estimates of reported fires derived from the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) and the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA’s) fire department survey show that in 2009-2013, fires in homes with no smoke alarms caused an average of 940 deaths per year (38% of home fire deaths). An additional 510 people per year (21% of home fire deaths) were fatally injured in fires in which smoke alarms were present but failed to operate. Power source problems were the leading cause of smoke alarm failures.
Almost all households indicate having smoke alarms, yet smoke alarms were present in slightly less than three-quarters (73%) of reported home fires and operated in roughly half (53%). When present in reported fires large enough to activate them, they operated 87% of the time. Hardwired smoke alarms were more likely to operate than those powered solely by batteries.
The death rate per 100 reported fires was more than twice as high in homes with no or no working smoke alarms (1.18 deaths per 100 fires) as it was in fires with working smoke alarms (0.53 deaths per 100 fires). The lowest fire death rates were seen in homes with hardwired smoke alarms and sprinklers. Victims in homes with working smoke alarms were more likely to have been in the area of origin. They were also more likely to be 65 or older, to have a physical disability or to have tried to fight the fire themselves.