Increasing smoke alarm operability through theory-based health education: A randomised trial

Ted R. Miller, Gwen Bergen, Michael F. Ballesteros, Soma Bhattacharya, Andrea Carlson Gielen, Monique S. Sheppard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Although working smoke alarms halve deaths in residential fires, many households do not keep alarms operational. We tested whether theory-based education increases alarm operability. Methods: Randomised multiarm trial, with a single arm randomly selected for use each day, in low-income neighbourhoods in Maryland, USA. Intervention arms: (1) Full Education combining a health belief module with a social-cognitive theory module that provided hands-on practice installing alarm batteries and using the alarm's hush button; (2) Hands-on Practice social-cognitive module supplemented by typical fire department education; (3) Current Norm receiving typical fire department education only. Four hundred and thirty-six homes recruited through churches or by knocking on doors in 2005-2008. Followup visits checked alarm operability in 370 homes (85%) 1-3.5 years after installation. Main outcome measures: number of homes with working alarms defined as alarms with working batteries or hard-wired and number of working alarms per home. Regressions controlled for alarm status preintervention; demographics and beliefs about fire risks and alarm effectiveness. Results: Homes in the Full Education and Practice arms were more likely to have a functioning smoke alarm at follow-up (OR=2.77, 95% CI 1.09 to 7.03) and had an average of 0.32 more working alarms per home (95% CI 0.09 to 0.56). Working alarms per home rose 16%. Full Education and Practice had similar effectiveness (p=0.97 on both outcome measures). Conclusions: Without exceeding typical fire department installation time, installers can achieve greater smoke alarm operability. Hands-on practice is key. Two years after installation, for every three homes that received hands-on practice, one had an additional working alarm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1168-1174
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of epidemiology and community health
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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