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Validity of smoke alarm self-report measures and reasons for over-reporting
  1. Rebecca Stepnitz1,
  2. Wendy Shields1,
  3. Eileen McDonald2,
  4. Andrea Gielen2
  1. 1Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  2. 2Department of Health Behavior and Society, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Rebecca Stepnitz, 3621 44th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55406, USA; step0310{at}


Objectives Many residential fire deaths occur in homes with no or non-functioning smoke alarms (SAs). Self-reported SA coverage is high, but studies have found varying validity for self-report measures. The authors aim to: (1) determine over-reporting of coverage, (2) describe socio-demographic correlates of over-reporting and (3) report reasons for over-reporting.

Methods The authors surveyed 603 households in a large, urban area about fire safety behaviours and then tested all SAs in the home. 23 participants who over-reported their SA coverage were telephoned and asked about why they had misreported.

Results Full coverage was reported in 70% of households but observed in only 41%, with a low positive predictive value (54.2%) for the self-report measure. Most over-reporters assumed alarms were working because they were mounted or did not think a working alarm in a basement or attic was needed to be fully protected.

Conclusions If alarms cannot be tested, researchers or those counselling residents on fire safety should carefully probe self-reported coverage. Our findings support efforts to equip more homes with hard-wired or 10 year lithium battery alarms to reduce the need for user maintenance.

  • Smoke alarms
  • fire prevention
  • self-report validity
  • interventions
  • burn
  • public health
  • education
  • behavioural
  • information tech
  • community
  • child
  • counselling
  • evaluation
  • psychological
  • violence

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  • Funding This work was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant number R18 CE001339 and by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development grant number R01 HD059216-04.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Patient consent This was not a medical study. All respondents signed a consent form approved by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Institutional Review Board.

  • Ethics approval Approval provided by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Institutional Review Board.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Additional explanatory data may be available upon request.