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Kentucky has a high rate of fire-related fatalities—17.9 per million in 2019, more than 50 percent higher than the national average rate of 10.7 per million.

As most fatal fires occur in the home, the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center’s (KIPRC’s) Residential Fire Injury Prevention (RFIP) program works to prevent deaths and injuries due to fire by increasing the number of homes in Kentucky that have working smoke alarms.

“Having working smoke alarms is the single most important thing that a person can do to protect themselves, and other members of their household, from fire,” said Robert McCool, KIPRC’s Fire Prevention and Safety Program coordinator. “While it’s also very important to practice fire safety, fires can occur due to situations that can’t be easily identified or avoided (such as electrical shorts). Working smoke alarms provide warning and give people time to get out of their home before they are overcome by smoke.”

A working warning system is more important than ever, as the amount of time a household has to escape a fire is getting shorter, in part due to the use of synthetic materials in newer carpeting and furniture. 

“Synthetic materials often burn much faster than older materials made from plant or animal fiber,” McCool said. “Synthetic materials also typically produce very thick, toxic smoke. These factors make it critical to get out of a burning home within the first few minutes after a fire starts.”

While smoke alarms are critical, developing a fire escape plan is also essential. The plan should include at least two ways out of each room and provide for anyone in the household with special needs, such as a young child, an elderly person, or a person with a disability. 

McCool said once a household has developed a fire escape plan, it’s important that the entire family practices that plan. 

“Just thinking about the plan, or even talking about it, isn’t enough,” he said. “Sports teams don’t win games by just talking about their game plan—they win because they practice. To win the race with fire, you have to practice your escape plan.”

KIPRC uses Fire Prevention and Safety grant funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide smoke alarms, fire safety educational materials, installation documentation, and installer training to fire departments and other local agencies that participate in the program. KIPRC project staff also serve as advisers if local partners have questions or concerns during their projects. 

McCool said local organizations identify low-income homes in their communities that need smoke alarms, because those households are less likely to have working smoke alarms. The local organization then installs the alarms, provides fire safety education for the residents, performs a brief home safety check and provides the results to the residents, and submits documentation of its work to KIPRC.

A fire department, public health department, or other local public safety or service organization can apply to participate in the project by contacting Robert McCool at (859) 257-6741 or Applications will be accepted until the available supply of smoke alarms is gone.

More information, including a sample application, is available at

National Fire Prevention Week is Oct. 3-9 this year and is timed to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. This year’s Fire Prevention Week theme, “Learn the Sounds of Fire Safety,” helps people better understand the reasons smoke alarms may sound and the know-how to effectively address them, helping ensure that smoke alarms remain in working order. The campaign also addresses special considerations for the deaf and hard of hearing, along with information about carbon monoxide alarms.

KIPRC is a unique partnership between the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) and the University of Kentucky’s College of Public Health. KIPRC serves both as an academic injury prevention research center and as the DPH’s designee or “bona fide agent” for statewide injury prevention and control.