Ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms in rural Alaskan homes

West J Med. 2000 Aug;173(2):89-92. doi: 10.1136/ewjm.173.2.89.


Objective: To compare rates of nuisance alarms and disconnection between ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms.

Design: A prospective cohort study.

Setting: Four Inupiat Eskimo villages in the Northwest Arctic Borough region of Alaska, 48 km (30 mi) above the Arctic Circle.

Subjects: Households in 4 communities with similar populations, number of homes, mean income, size of household, and square footage per home.

Intervention: Two villages had photoelectric alarms installed (58 homes), and 2 other villages had ionization alarms installed (65 homes) in standard locations. Follow-up household surveys were conducted after 6 months to determine rates of false alarms and detector disconnection. All of the households that could be contacted 104/123 agreed to participate in the follow-up surveys. Main outcome measures The proportion of households experiencing false alarms and the proportion of disabled alarms in households in each of the test communities.

Results: Homes with ionization alarms had more than 8 times the rate of false alarms as those with photoelectric alarms. Eleven of the ionization alarms (19%) were disconnected compared with 2 of the photoelectric devices (4%).

Conclusions: In small rural residences, photoelectric smoke alarms have lower rates of false alarms and disconnection. Photoelectric alarms may be the preferred choice for dwellings with limited living space or frequent false alarms.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alaska
  • Cohort Studies
  • Equipment Failure / statistics & numerical data
  • Fire Extinguishing Systems
  • Fires / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Protective Devices / statistics & numerical data*
  • Random Allocation
  • Rural Population
  • Smoke


  • Smoke