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Thanksgiving Fire Statistics Make Me Grateful for Smoke Detectors

Smoke DetectorIn the United States, most of us associate Thanksgiving with turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and stuffing...specifically, the stuffing of our faces with the aforementioned edibles.

But it's also a time to reflect upon things we're grateful for. Home and family frequently top gratitude lists, but this year, how about a little dollop of thanks for something that protects your home and family? I'm talking about the humble smoke detector. 

With all the cooking that occurs, it's no shock that Thanksgiving is a big day for residential fires. Some 2,000 Thanksgiving Day fires are reported annually in the U.S., and they cause an estimated average of 25 injuries, $21 million in property loss, and 5 deaths. 

The good news is that a quick look at the statistics for these incidents, which the U.S. Fire Administration collects, shows that if you experience a residential fire on Thanksgiving, a working smoke detector in your house goes a long way toward protecting you and your family. The bad news?  Not all homes have them. 

The Topical Fire Report Series summary of Thanksgiving Day fires is a little on the dry side, so I created a quick data sheet in Minitab Statistical Software to make it easier to see the importance of a smoke detector in your home. This chart shows how effective the alarms were (in the homes that had them). 

Pie Chart of Smoke Alarm Effectiveness

Right away we see that a whopping 72.9 percent of occupants in residences with working smoke detectors were alerted and responded. About 11 percent of alarms went off when no occupants were present. Alarms alerted another 4 percent of occupants, but they did not respond to the alarm, for whatever reason. That's a total of 88 percent where the alarms either alerted residents or presumably would have if the residents were present, and it seems reasonable to assume that at least some of the detectors whose effectiveness couldn't be determined by investigators did, in fact, work -- so the real percentage of alarm effectiveness may be even higher. 

Most tellingly, less than 2 percent of the alarms failed to alert occupants to the fire danger. That's a pretty compelling reason to make sure you've got working detectors in your house. 

Unfortunately, another pie graph indicates that many households aren't paying attention to this kind of data analysis. Here's the breakdown of those residences involved in a Thanksgiving fire for which a fire alarm status could be clearly identified: 

Pie Chart of Fire Alarm Status

About 10 percent of the Thanksgiving day residential fires were just too small to set off the fire alarms, and another 36 percent of those fires did trigger the alarms. In 13 percent of fires, an alarm was present, but it couldn't be determined whether it operated properly. 

The alarm didn't operate in 12 percent of those fires...perhaps due to faulty installation or dead batteries. This statistic underscores the need to check your smoke detectors periodically.

Even more shocking is the fact that nearly 30 percent of these residences had no smoke or fire detectors at all.  

So whether you're reading this on Thanksgiving day or not, give a thought to the status of the smoke and fire detectors in your own residence, and make sure they're in good working condition. 

Happy Thanksgiving!  

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