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Research Update: Lessons from CDC’s Smoke Alarm Installation and Fire Safety Education Program

Ballesteros M, Jackson M, Martin MW. Working towards the elimination of residential fire deaths: CDC’s Smoke Alarm Installation and Fire Safety Education (SAIFE) Program. Journal of Burn Care and Rehabilitation 2005;26(5):434-9.

Deaths from fire and burns are the fifth most common cause of unintentional injury-related deaths in the United States. Although a working smoke alarm reduces the risk of death from residential fire by at least 50%, only about three quarters of U.S. households reported having one that functions.

CDC’s Injury Center funds 16 states to deliver a Smoke Alarm Installation and Fire Safety Education (SAIFE) program. For each year of funding, state health departments solicit participation from at least two eligible communities. Local coordinators are hired to build community partnerships that canvass neighborhood homes; install long-lasting lithium-powered smoke alarms; provide general fire safety education; and to conduct a six-month follow-up to determine alarm functionality. Since the program’s inception, more than 312,000 smoke alarms have been installed in more than 174,000 high-risk homes. Approximately 1,218 lives potentially have been saved.

Based on a review of program outcomes from funded states, CDC has identified the following six key components and 17 elements as critical to program success.

Communities and community partners

  • Select target communities at greatest risk—those with a population of 50,000 or less, fire mortality and incident rates greater than the state or national averages, and mean household incomes below the poverty line.
  • Develop strong collaborations with individuals and organizations in target communities, including firefighters, health departments, schools and churches.
  • Partner with fire departments. Firefighters are typically dedicated individuals working to serve their communities who the public associates with fire safety. In addition, they are respected members of their communities which can help them gain access to homes.

Local coordinators

  • Identify coordinators at the local level who are experts with regard to their community.
  • Make local coordinators responsible for ensuring the success of projects at the community level; empower them to make decisions about the project design and implementation and to resolve problems as they arise.

Access to the homes of target population

  • Prior to visiting homes, inform the public about program availability and logistics. Programs have relied on local media, church bulletins, local health clinics and fire department news releases to raise awareness.
  • In urban and suburban areas, use door-to-door canvassing. Two-person teams can efficiently canvass neighborhoods of homes that are within close proximity of the other.
  • In rural areas it is more efficient to schedule appointments with residents.
  • Leave written information on door hangers when no one is home so that residents can learn how to contact program staff to reschedule a visit.
  • Use alternative times such as weekday evenings and weekends. It may be easier to reach residents during alternative hours, and such hours are often better for volunteers with full time jobs.

Program activities in the home

  • Gain residents’ verbal consent to participate in the program.
  • Once inside homes, program staff can assess for existing alarms, determine their operational status, and install the necessary number of new long-lasting lithium-powered alarms.
  • Deliver fire safety education with a core set of messages, but allow for variability depending on the circumstances in each home. In addition to tailoring messages for specific residents, states and/or communities may address topics of particular concern in their area.
  • Have program staff work in pairs to increase efficiency and safety; one person can install smoke alarms while the other delivers fire safety education.

Incentives and rewards

  • Provide incentives to program staff, especially to volunteers. Community programs have purchased equipment for local fire departments, offered gift certificates to volunteers or have provided program t-shirts.
  • Formally recognize program staff for their participation with certificates of appreciation, a recognition dinner, plaques for fire departments, or write-ups in local papers.


  • Develop an evaluation plan to measure progress toward program goals and objectives.

To learn more about the SAIFE program, including additional benefits and challenges, get a free copy of the complete article at the Journal of Burn Care and Research website.

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