Many Have Smoke Alarms Not Working

October 4-10 is National Fire Prevention Week. A new survey shows that almost 94% of US households contacted by phone had at least one smoke alarm -- but half of the smoke alarms installed in American homes are not working 12 months after installation. The main reason for nonfunctioning smoke alarms is batteries being removed...or not being changed -- dead batteries, essentially. Homes with smoke alarms have almost half as many fire-related deaths compared with homes without smoke alarms. The CDC currently recommends that smoke alarms be installed outside each sleeping area and on every habitable level of a home.

Smoke alarms are especially important for households with young children or elderly, who face the highest risks from fire. "Both young children and older adults who may have physical limitations can benefit from the early warnings provided by smoke alarms," the CDC experts say.

According to the CDC report, residential fire-related deaths -- which account for 81% of fire-related deaths -- peak in the winter months (December-February), and are most often caused by cooking and heating devices improperly placed and/or left unattended.

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 1998;47:803-806.

COMMENT: I think it is very wise to check all your smoke alarms regularly. Once a month would be ideal. But, at a minimum, you should check them when you turn the clocks forward or backward which occurs in about three weeks. You also may want to consider upgrading your alarm to one that has a carbon monoxide detector which is much more effective. I would strongly recommend obtaining one with multiple batteries prior to Y2K. With all the sources of fire used for heating and lighting, the risk of fires will increase tremendously. It would also be wise to consider purchasing a fire extinguisher.

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