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Free smoke alarm programmes are failing

Incidence of fires and related injuries after giving out free smoke alarms: cluster randomised controlled trial BMJ Volume 325, pp 995-7

BMJ

Providing and installing free smoke alarms to poor, urban households does not reduce fire related injuries and may be a waste of resources, find two studies in this week's BMJ.

In the first study, smoke alarms were given out to 19,950 households in a deprived, multiethnic, urban community in inner London. Free installation was offered and postcards reminding that the battery should be changed were sent out one year later. Control households received no intervention.

Giving out free smoke alarms did not reduce injuries related to fire, admissions to hospital and deaths, or fires attended by the fire brigade. Widespread implementation of such programmes may be a waste of resources and of little benefit unless alarm installation and maintenance is assured, conclude the authors.

In the second study, smoke alarms were installed in 2,145 local authority households in inner London to identify which type of smoke alarm was most likely to still be working 15 months later.

Nearly half of the alarms installed were not working when tested 15 months later. Forty per cent were missing or had been disabled by tenants. Ionising smoke alarms with long life lithium batteries were most likely to remain functioning.

Although the government recommends that local authorities install battery powered smoke alarms in all their properties, these results cast doubt on whether installation programmes are worth while, conclude the authors.

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