Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Prevention

Report issued by NFPA on waking effectiveness of smoke alarms for older adults.

December 7, 2007 
By Fire Fighting in Canada

QUINCY, Mass. – While the use of smoke alarms and signalling systems is associated with a reduction in fire fatalities in the general population – reducing the chances of dying in a fire by 40 to 50 per cent when present, a recent study suggests older adults (those 65 years of age and over) may not fully benefit from conventional smoke alarm systems, particularly during sleeping hours. This study was released by the National Fire Protection Association in early August.

With support from the U.S. Fire Administration's Fire Prevention and Safety grants program and the alarm industry, the Fire Protection Research Foundation undertook a study in 2005 to assess the performance requirements for alarm and signalling systems to meet the needs of an aging population.  Risk assessment and human behaviour studies were undertaken, as well as a review of new and promising technologies that may improve the waking effectiveness of smoke alarms for older adults and improve their overall fire safety. According to the National Fire Protection Association, older adults are more than twice as likely to die in a home fire as the average person. On average, 800 older adults die in home fires each year.

The results
The results showed that under comparative test conditions, the high pitched signal typical of that used in U.S. smoke alarms performed the most poorly of the alternative signals tested. The results also indicate that a male voice alarm is not suitable for older adults.

The study concluded that the high frequency alarm signal that is typically used in current smoke alarms should ultimately be replaced by an alternative signal that offers significantly better waking effectiveness across the general population, once the nature of the best signal has been determined.


The research foundation is currently undertaking additional research on this topic. While this research is ongoing, the study recommended the use of interconnected smoke alarms in bedrooms to provide the maximum potential benefit. The report further stated that proper use and maintenance of smoke alarms is also critical to realizing the benefits of smoke alarms.

The Fire Protection Research Foundation plans, manages and communicates consortium-funded research on a broad range of fire safety issues in collaboration with scientists and laboratories around the world. The foundation is an affiliate of NFPA.

NFPA has been a worldwide leader in providing fire, electrical, building, and life safety to the public since 1896. The mission of the international non-profit organization is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training and education.

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