Each year, 5,000 Americans die and 300,000 are hospitalized as a result of 2.8 million residential fires. Almost all house fires allow time for safe exit if an early warning is given. Smoke detectors are an effective, reliable, and inexpensive method of providing such warning. After an upsurge of deaths related to fires in 1982, Baltimore City gave away 3,720 smoke detectors to households that requested them. This study addressed two questions: (1) Did the households that received the smoke detectors install them? (2) Was the population reached by this giveaway program a population at high risk from fire? A survey of 231 randomly selected households among those requesting smoke detectors was conducted 8 to 10 months after the giveaway program. At that time, smoke detectors were installed in 92% (212/231) of the homes and 88% (187/212) of the installed smoke detectors were operational. Households requesting smoke detectors were in census tracts at higher risk from fire. The correlation coefficient between the rate of requesting a smoke detector and the risk of death or injury related to fires was r = .90, P < .001. The 231 surveyed households had more personal fire risk factors than the general population. The success of this smoke detector giveaway program is notable in that it required the active participation of a high-risk population.

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