• Safety

Thanksgiving Day Fire Alert and Suppression Systems



Technologies to detect and extinguish fires have been a major contributor to the drop in fire fatalities and over the past 30 years. Smoke alarms are now present in the majority of residential buildings. In addition, the use of residential sprinklers is widely supported by the fire service and is gaining support within residential communities.

Smoke alarm data are available for both confined and nonconfined fires, although for confined fires, the data are very limited in scope. As different levels of data are collected on smoke alarms in confined and nonconfined fires, the analyses are performed separately. Note that the data are the raw counts from the NFIRS data set and are not scaled to national estimates of smoke alarms in Day fires in residential buildings. In addition, NFIRS does not allow for the determination of the type of smoke alarm—that is, if the smoke alarm was photoelectric or ionization, or the location of the smoke alarm with respect to the area of .

Smoke Alarms in Nonconfined Fires

Overall, smoke alarms were reported as present in 46 percent of nonconfined Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings. In 23 percent of nonconfined Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings, there were no smoke alarms present. In another 31 percent of these fires, firefighters were unable to determine if a smoke alarm was present. Thus, smoke alarms were potentially missing in between 23 and 54 percent of these fires with the ability to spread and possibly result in fatalities.

While 14 percent of all nonconfined Thanksgiving Day fires occur in residential buildings that are not currently or routinely occupied, these occupancies—buildings under construction, undergoing major renovation, vacant, and the like—are unlikely to have alerting and suppression systems that are in place and, if in place, that operate. Only 10 percent of nonconfined Thanksgiving Day fires in unoccupied residential buildings were reported as having smoke alarms that operated. As a result, the detailed smoke alarm analyses in the next section focus on nonconfined fires in occupied residential buildings only.

Smoke Alarms in Nonconfined Fires in Occupied Residential Buildings

Smoke alarms were reported as present in 49 percent of nonconfined Thanksgiving Day fires in occupied residential buildings. In 20 percent of nonconfined Thanksgiving Day fires in occupied residential buildings, there were no smoke alarms present. In another 32 percent of these fires, firefighters were unable to determine if a smoke alarm was present.

  • When smoke alarms were present (49 percent) and the alarm operational status is considered, the percentage of smoke alarms reported as present consists of:
  • smoke alarms present and operated—25 percent;
  • present but did not operate—15 percent (alarm did not operate, 8 percent; fire too small, 7 percent); and
  • present, but operational status unknown—9 percent. When the subset of incidents where smoke alarms were

reported as present are analyzed separately, smoke alarms were reported to have operated in 51 percent of the incidents and failed to operate in 17 percent. In 14 percent of this subset, the fire was too small to activate the alarm. The operational status of the alarm was undetermined in 18 percent of these incidents.

Smoke Alarm Data for Nonconfined Thanksgiving Day Fires in Occupied Residential Buildings

Presence of
Smoke Alarm

Smoke Alarm Operational Status Smoke Alarm Effectiveness Count %
Present

Fire too small to activate smoke alarm

68

7.0

 

Smoke alarm operated

Smoke alarm alerted occupants, occupants responded

175

18.1

 

Smoke alarm alerted occupants, occupants failed to respond

9

0.9

 

No occupants

27

2.8

 

Smoke alarm failed to alert occupants

3

0.3

 

Undetermined

26

2.7

 

Smoke alarm failed to operate

80

8.3

 

Undetermined

85

8.8

None present

190

 

19.6

 
Undetermined 306 31.6

Total Incidents

969

100.0

Notes: The data presented in this table are raw data counts from the NFIRS data set. They do not represent national estimates of smoke alarms in nonconfined Thanksgiving Day fires in occupied residential buildings.,They are presented for informational purposes. Total may not add to 100 percent due to rounding.

Smoke Alarms in Confined Fires

Less information about smoke alarm status is collected for confined fires, but the data still give important insights about the effectiveness of alerting occupants in these types of fires. The analyses presented here do not differentiate between occupied and unoccupied residential buildings, as this data detail is not required when reporting confined fires in NFIRS. However, an assumption may be made that confined fires are fires in occupied housing as these types of fires are unlikely to be reported in residential buildings that are not occupied.

Smoke alarms operated and alerted occupants in 44 percent of the reported confined Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings. The data suggest that smoke alarms may alert residents to confined fires as the early alerting allowed the occupants to extinguish the fires, or the fires self-extinguished. If this is the case, it is an example of the contribution to life safety and the ability to rapidly respond to fires in early stages that smoke alarms afford.12

Occupants were not alerted by smoke alarms in 15 percent of confined Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings.13 In 42 percent of these confined fires, the smoke alarm effectiveness was unknown.

Automatic Extinguishment Systems in Nonconfined Fires in Residential Buildings

The analyses presented here do not differentiate between occupied and unoccupied housing, as very few reported fires (1 percent) in unoccupied housing have automatic extinguishment systems (AES) present. Note that the data presented in Table 8 are the raw counts from the NFIRS data set and are not scaled to national estimates of AESs in Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings.

Overall, full or partial AESs, mainly sprinklers, were present in only 2 percent of nonconfined Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings. AESs were not present in 91 percent of nonconfined Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings. The lack of AESs is not unexpected as only 3 percent of all nonconfined residential fires have an AES present.

Sprinklers are required by code in hotels and many multifamily residences. There are major movements in the U.S. fire service to require or facilitate use of sprinklers in all new homes, which could improve the usage of residential sprinklers in the future. At present, however, they are largely absent nationwide.