Smoke Alarms in U.S. Home Fires

Report: NFPA's "Smoke Alarms in U.S. Home Fires" (PDF, 1 MB)
Author: Marty Ahrens
Issued: September 2015

This report focuses chiefly on smoke alarm presence and performance in home fires reported to local fire departments in the U.S. Additional topics include the benefits of working smoke alarms, reasons why smoke alarms fail to operate, smoke alarm performance by power source, the difference in smoke alarm performance in one- or two-family homes vs. apartments, and characteristics of fatal home fire victims with and without working smoke alarms. The literature on smoke alarm audibility and waking effectiveness is also discussed.  Fire death rates with various combinations of smoke alarms and automatic extinguishing systems are also presented. 

Report highlights 

  • Smoke alarms provide an early warning of a fire, giving people additional escape time. In 2009-2013, smoke alarms sounded in more than half (53%) of the home1 fires reported to U.S. fire departments.
  • Three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms (38%) or no working smoke alarms (21%). 
  • The death rate per 100 reported home fires was more than twice as high in homes that did not have any working smoke alarms compared to the rate in homes with working smoke alarms (1.18 deaths vs. 0.53 deaths per 100 fires).
  • In fires in which the smoke alarms were present but did not operate, almost half (46%) of the smoke alarms had missing or disconnected batteries. 
  • Dead batteries caused one-quarter (24%) of the smoke alarm failures.

1Homes include one- or two-family homes and apartments or other multi-family housing.

Smoke alarm performance 2009 2013

NFPA (National Fire Protection Association)
1 Batterymarch Park, Quincy, MA 02169-7471 USA
Telephone: +1 617 770-3000 Fax: +1 617 770-0700