Smoke Alarms Use and MaintenanceSmoke alarms issue a high beeping sound when a certain level of smoke is detected. This alerts occupants to a potential fire danger and provides precious additional minutes to evacuate the home safely. Despite the high effectiveness, many U.S. households do not own a smoke alarm, and if they do own one or more smoke alarms, they are not using them currently.
Over four million housing units do not have a smoke alarm. This group accounts for 39% of reported home fires and nearly half of all the reported home fire deaths. Although more than 90% of households in the United States report having at least one smoke alarm, many of these alarms may not be working. Research shows that working smoke alarms can reduce the risk of death in a residential fire by 40-50%. The reason the smoke alarms do not work is normally because of missing batteries, as opposed to problems with AC power. Nearly half of the households with non-operational smoke alarms have citied that the smoke alarms are a nuisance and the alarm sounds unnecessarily (i.e. due to cooking smoke). As a result the resident has disabled the smoke detector. This group represents roughly 21 million housing units and an estimated thirty million or more smoke alarms. The major factors in effectiveness of smoke alarms include gaps in use, reliability, and human understanding.
Additional precautions must be made if the home has young children or disabled individuals. A working smoke alarm is not present in two-thirds of the residential fires in which a child is injured or killed. Disabled people require special features on the smoke alarms such as flashing or strobing lights to alert them to a possible fire. For those that are physically impaired, well planned and practiced evacuation routes and assigned special assistants are necessary.