To measure the effect of giving out free smoke alarms on rates of fires and rates of fire related injury in a deprived multiethnic urban population.
Cluster randomised controlled trial.
Forty electoral wards in two boroughs of inner London, United Kingdom.
Primarily households including elderly people or children and households that are in housing rented from the borough council.
20 050 smoke alarms, fittings, and educational brochures distributed free and installed on request.
Main outcome measures
Rates of fires and related injuries during two years after the distribution; alarm ownership, installation, and function.
Giving out free smoke alarms did not reduce injuries related to fire (rate ratio 1.3; 95% confidence interval 0.9 to 1.9), admissions to hospital and deaths (1.3; 0.7 to 2.3), or fires attended by the fire brigade (1.1; 0.96 to 1.3). Similar proportions of intervention and control households had installed alarms (36/119 (30%) v 35/109 (32%); odds ratio 0.9; 95% confidence interval 0.5 to 1.7) and working alarms (19/118 (16%) v 18/108 (17%); 0.9; 0.4 to 1.8).
Giving out free smoke alarms in a deprived, multiethnic, urban community did not reduce injuries related to fire, mostly because few alarms had been installed or were maintained.
What is already known on this topicIn the United Kingdom, residential fires caused 466 deaths and 14 600 non-fatal injuries in 1999The risk of death from fire is associated with socioeconomic classOne study reported an 80% decline in hospitalisations and deaths from residential fires after free smoke alarms were distributed in an area at high risk, but these results may not apply in other settings, and evidence from randomised controlled trials is lackingWhat this study addsGiving out free smoke alarms in a multiethnic poor urban population did not reduce injuries related to fire or firesGiving smoke alarms away may be a waste of resources and of little benefit unless alarm installation and maintenance is assured