Author(s): Lorraine Carli. Published on May 2, 2016.

On Message

Why NFPA continues to push the home smoke alarm theme for Fire Prevention Week


A COUPLE OF MONTHS AGO, the newly appointed state fire marshal in Massachusetts held one of his first press conferences and reported that the state was experiencing a higher number of fires than average. The causes of those fires varied, the fire marshal said, and added that a common denominator in many of those incidents was that the structures involved in those fires had no working smoke alarms. Joined by chiefs from across the state, as well as by members of all the major fire service groups, the fire marshal urged the public to make sure they had working smoke alarms in their homes.

To those in the fire service, the lack of working smoke alarms, especially in homes, sadly comes as no surprise. Every day, headlines from across the country chronicle fire after fire in homes without working smoke alarms. The media has become very good at asking about the presence of smoke alarms in residential fires, and those questions often represent opportunities for NFPA to communicate critical data on smoke alarms and the enormous value attached to their usage. One of the most frequently used NFPA statistics is that three of every five home fire deaths in the United States result from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. Almost 40 percent of the fire deaths that occur in the U.S. are in homes with no smoke alarms.

This is why NFPA is again focusing on smoke alarms for this year’s Fire Prevention Week (FPW) theme, marking the third consecutive year that FPW will feature a smoke alarm-related message. The 2016 Fire Prevention Week theme is “Don’t Wait, Check the Date! Replace Smoke Alarms Every 10 Years.” This follows the 2015 theme about making sure bedrooms have smoke alarms (“Hear the Beep Where You Sleep”) and the 2014 focus on smoke alarm testing (“Smoke Alarms Save Lives: Test Yours Every Month”). This year’s FPW will be held October 9–15. More information on the event is available at the Fire Prevention Week webpage.

NFPA recommends replacing smoke alarms after 10 years because that is typically the life expectancy of the devices; beyond that, the sensors in smoke alarms can begin to lose their sensitivity.

Some observers may ask if this focus on smoke alarms is getting a little redundant, but I don’t think it is. In fact, three years ago we made a conscious decision to focus on smoke alarms for at least three years. Our rationale was the same as that of the Massachusetts state fire marshal—if homes have working smoke alarms, we can dramatically reduce the loss of life from fire, regardless of the cause.

We set out to make each year’s theme different enough to gain attention but similar enough to be effective. Our hope is that, by highlighting a more nuanced aspect of the message, we can provide fire departments and other public educators with something new or different to talk about that the public is unaware of, yet reinforces the life-saving benefit of smoke alarms.

We came up with the idea for this year’s theme after reviewing the results of last year’s annual FPW quiz, which included a question on how often you should replace your smoke alarms. Many people got it wrong. We thought there must be something to this, so we conducted a national survey asking the same thing. Ninety percent of respondents didn’t know that smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years, which is typically the life span of the devices. In addition, nearly 20 percent of those surveyed reported having smoke alarms that were more than 10 years old.

These statistics support the need to keep talking about smoke alarms. Please join us in getting the word out.

LORRAINE CARLI is vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA. Top Photograph: Shutterstock