Epidemiology: Prevention Research

Raise the Alarms: A Trial of Smoke Detector Types

Key Investigators: Harrison Alter, M.D., M.S., and David C. Grossman, M.D., M.P.H.
University of Washington Departments of Medicine, Pediatrics and Health Services
Funding Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (HIPRC Center Grant)

Residential fires are responsible for the majority of fire-related deaths in the U.S. Smoke detectors offer a simple and economical means of preventing injury and death from residential fires, reducing risk by about 70 percent. Ionization detectors, the most common type of sensor in households today, may be prone to nuisance alarms caused by showers, kitchen smoke, or other particulates. Photoelectric sensors may be less likely to respond to airborne particles other than smoke, yet are similarly sensitive to fire and smoke. The investigators hypothesize that with fewer nuisance alarms, photoelectric-type smoke detectors may be less likely to be disabled than ionization detectors and thus more likely to be protective against fire. This is a randomized trial of the two types, installed in standardized positions on the main living floor, in 784 owner-occupied dwellings in King County, Wash. The primary outcome is the proportion of functional detectors of each type at 9- and 15-month follow-ups. Secondary outcomes will include reasons for de-powering, incidence of nuisance alarms, and correlations to sociodemographic features of the population. The results could ultimately influence recommendations for the installation of home smoke detectors.