CPSC Warns: Millions of Americans Have Smoke Alarms that Don't Work

October 9, 2002
Release Number: 03-008

This is Fire Prevention Week (October 6-12), but the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that about 16 million homes in the U.S. have smoke alarms that do not work. The reason? The batteries are dead or missing.

Since most of the U.S. will gain an hour when Daylight Savings Time ends on Sunday, October 27, the CPSC recommends that consumers make good use of the extra hour by changing their smoke alarm batteries and testing the alarms to ensure they work properly.

"Parents and children should make safety a family tradition by changing the batteries in their smoke alarms annually. They should also be tested monthly to make sure they're operating," said CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton. "Make fire safety a family activity."

Fire is the second leading cause of unintentional death in the home. Each year, nearly 2,700 people die in residential fires, and there are more than 330,000 residential fires reported to fire departments.

About 90 percent of U.S. households have smoke alarms installed. However, a CPSC survey estimated that 20 percent of those households, about 16 million, did not have any working alarms. CPSC recommends consumers test each smoke alarm every month to make sure it is working properly. Long-life smoke alarms with 10-year batteries have been available to consumers since 1995. These long-life alarms also should be tested monthly.

CPSC recommends consumers place a smoke alarm that meets the requirements of a professional testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories' (UL), on each level of multi-story homes outside sleeping areas, and inside bedrooms. CPSC has worked to strengthen smoke alarm performance and installation requirements.

Each year, CPSC works with other federal agencies and fire safety organizations to help reduce the number of injuries and deaths caused by fire. Specifically, CPSC has developed candle safety information for retailers in Massachusetts; distributed smoke alarms to seniors and pre- schools in Pennsylvania; conducted outreach to colleges and universities in California and Washington about dormitory and apartment fire safety; and distributed fire safety information nationwide.

    CPSC recommends consumers follow these tips to help prevent fires:

- Install and maintain smoke alarms;

- Maintain gas and electrical appliances;

- Keep matches and lighters away from children; and

- Develop and practice a fire escape plan.