In spite of recent news events about children sleeping through them, smoke alarms and home escape planning are still a vital part of survival from fire. Smoke alarms have been and still are the cornerstone of fire safety technology in the home.
Statistics point to a fifty percent reduction in fire fatalities since the introduction of smoke alarms into the home. Although 90% of all residences have smoke alarms today, no smoke alarms were present in 42% of residential structure fires where fatalities occurred. Smoke alarms were present in 58% of fatal residential structure fires, but only operational in 37% of those fatal fires. That means that most often where smoke alarms are present in a fatal fire, the smoke alarm is nonfunctional due to dead or missing batteries.
However, the recent news events remind us of the need to continue research in fire safety and seek to improve on successful technologies such as smoke alarms. The USFA has recognized the need for a vigorous and timely exchange of information between the nation's fire safety stakeholders. It is important that the USFA and its fellow fire safety related organizations share information in order to analyze and disseminate appropriate and accurate information to the public and fire safety education specialists throughout the United States.
USFA and its partners are currently reviewing existing literature and studies from both foreign and domestic sources. USFA is also looking to identify and support relevant testing groups on this issue. Partners, such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL), are currently reviewing criteria for establishing such testing.
What is imperative at the moment is for our citizens to understand the need not to rely solely on smoke alarms as the entire answer to escaping from fire. These recent news events serve to reinforce the need for home escape planning. Smoke alarms are a tool in the planning process. Parents need to clearly understand their supporting roles in the escape plan. After going over the plan with your family, you should conduct a walkthrough of the plan. When you feel comfortable with your plan, hold a fire drill at night (activate your alarm) while your children are sleeping so that you and they can determine the appropriate response to a smoke alarm.
Smoke alarms and automatic sprinklers do save lives but they are just tools in the home escape process. We will continue to conduct research and promote new fire safety technologies but families need to remember that while technology is an integral part of the process, the maintenance of that technology (e.g. regular testing, replacing batteries, etc.) and incorporating planning and participation in their use will be the key to saving lives.