New Red Cross Survey Shows Many Americans Overconfident and Underprepared for Home Fires

CHARLESTON, WV — According to a new survey by the American Red Cross, many people overestimate their ability to react to a home fire and miss critical steps to keep their loved ones safe.

Forty percent of people believe they are more likely to win the lottery or get struck by lightning than experience a home fire. Yet, home fires are the most common disaster in this country – the majority of the nearly 64,000 disasters the Red Crossresponds to every year across the country.

Here in West Virginia the American Red Cross responded and assisted over 750 families who experienced a home fire in

2017 and has already helped almost 800 people impacted by a fire in their home in 2018.

“Home fires happen without warning and are responsible for killing seven people every day,” said Erica Mani, Chief Executive Officer for the West Virginia Region of the American Red Cross.  “Through our nationwide Home Fire Campaign, we are working hard to teach people about home fire safety and install free smoke alarms. So far here in West Virginia we have reached over 16,000 people through the campaign and will keep going to teach as many people as possible about how to keep their loved ones safe.”


According to the survey:

  • More than three-fourths (80 percent) of people surveyed believe everyone in their household knows what to do when a smoke alarm goes off. But less than half have a home fire escape plan in place. And only half of the families that do have a plan have actually practiced it.
  • Home fire experts say that people have as little as two minutes to escape a burning home. However, the survey showed nearly 60 percent of people mistakenly believe they have much more time than is realistic.
  • Even though many admit to actions that could contribute to a home fire, only one out of four (27 percent) people think that they are likely to experience a home fire in their lifetime.
  • About 40 percent of people have forgotten to turn off a stove or oven, even though cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries
  • More than one-third (34 percent) of people have used a stove, kerosene lantern or space heater to warm their home. The fact is that heating equipment is involved in one of every five home fire deaths.
  • Some progress is being made. More people are replacing batteries (a 9 percent increase vs. 2015) and testing to make sure their smoke alarms are working (an 11 percent increase vs. 2015).

Americans overwhelmingly believe that smoke alarms can save lives, yet one out of ten (12 percent) people have had to give up buying other essentials for their families to purchase a smoke alarm. This highlights just how critical the Red Cross HomeFire Campaign is. Launched in 2014, the Red Cross and campaign partners have already installed more than 1.1 million free smoke alarms and reached 1 million children through preparedness programs. These efforts are already credited with helping to save 381 lives.  Learn more.

Closer to home, the West Virginia Region of the American Red Cross has installed over 18,000 free smoke alarms in this area through the Home Fire Campaign. In January, a smoke alarm installed by her father, a Red Cross volunteer which alerted his daughter to the fire enabling her to evacuate herself and her husband safely. The resident stated in an interview, “If it wasn’t for the smoke detectors, we wouldn’t be here for our kids today.”


SOUND THE ALARM This spring, the Red Cross will Sound the Alarm against home fires with a rally event on Saturday, April 28, 2018 in the Charleston area and on Saturday, May 5th in the Beckley Area, teaching residents about home fire safety and installing free smoke alarms. The event is part of a nationwide effort to install 100,000 free smoke alarms in just 16 days from April 28 to May 13.

Join the Red Cross today by volunteering to install smoke alarms, making a financial contribution, or taking steps to
protect your own family from home fires. Together, we can Sound the Alarm about fire safety and help save lives. Learn
more at

This work is made possible thanks to generous financial donations from national partners: Almost Family, Delta Air Lines
and International Paper. The Red Cross has also received funding from FEMA through the Assistance to Firefighters
Grant Program.

Supplemental Information about Survey Methodology
The national public opinion survey was conducted for the Red Cross in August 2017 using the research firm Issues &
Answers. The study was conducted among a national sample of 604 American adults. The total sample is balanced to be
representative of the US adult population in terms of age, sex, geographic region, race and education. The margin of error
for the total sample is +/- 4 percent.

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Tyler Barker is currently the News Director and Digital Content Manager for WOAY-TV. He was promoted to this job in Mid-November. He still will fill in on weather from time to time. You can follow Tyler on Facebook and Twitter @wxtylerb. Have any news tips or weather questions? Email him at