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

October 08, 2003
Release Number: 04005

This is Fire Prevention Week (October 5-11), but the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that millions of homes in the U.S. have smoke alarms that do not work. Usually, the batteries are dead or missing.

Since most of the U.S. will gain an hour when Daylight Savings Time ends on Sunday, October 26, 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 activity by changing the batteries in their smoke alarms annually," said CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton. "And be sure to test the smoke alarms every month to make sure they are working."

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.

Although 10 percent of homes have no smoke alarm, millions more do 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 and is now studying audibility to see if there are ways to make the alarms more effective in waking children and alerting older people.

Each year, CPSC works with other federal agencies and fire safety organizations to help reduce the number of injuries and deaths caused by fire. Local fire departments have installed smoke alarms in homes, distributed safety publications, and made presentations in schools. CPSC encourages officials at the federal, state, and local level to promote fire prevention and to work with local organizations to disseminate fire safety tips.

Over a 10-year period (1989 through 1998), there was a decline in fire-related deaths. In 1989 there were approximately 3,600 deaths, but in 1998 there were approximately 2,700 deaths. This decline in deaths can be attributed, in part, to CPSC and industry standards for cigarette-resistant mattresses and upholstered furniture, heating and cooking equipment, electrical products, general wearing apparel, children's sleepwear, child-resistant lighters, fireworks, battery- operated children's vehicles, smoke alarms, and residential sprinklers. CPSC has designated fire safety as one of three top priorities for the next five years, with the goal of reducing fire deaths further.

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

-Develop and practice a fire escape plan