Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on October 4, 2021.

Chirps & Beeps

Fire Prevention Week runs from October 3 to October 9. The 2021 campaign is designed to educate the public on the sounds of fire safety.


While it’s tempting for fire safety professionals to assume that everyone knows a “chirp” means it’s time to replace a smoke alarm’s battery and that a series of three beeps means to get out of the house now, plenty of evidence suggests otherwise.

That’s why organizers of Fire Prevention Week (FPW) have made this year’s theme “Learn the Sounds of Fire Safety,” and included a pair of slogans: “Hear a chirp, make a change!” and “Hear a beep, get on your feet!” FPW, now in its 99th year and the longest-running public health campaign in the United States, started Sunday and will run through Saturday. 

“Smoke alarms have played a leading role in reducing fire death rates over the past 40 years, but we still have more work to do in maximizing their effectiveness,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy at NFPA. “When the smoke alarms in your home beep or chirp and you can’t figure out why—or how to make them stop—it can be frustrating. All too often, that frustration leads people to remove the batteries from their alarms or dismantle them altogether. These actions place people at serious risk in the event of a home fire.”

Pandemic provides key input 

During the past year and a half, when most schooling took place at home over computers, teachers began reporting with troubling regularity that students weren’t sure what a chirping smoke alarm signified. 

“We learned from teachers that they sometimes heard chirps coming from the smoke alarms in their students’ homes, and the kids weren’t sure what it meant,” said Andrea Vastis, the senior director of public education at NFPA. When the chirps disappeared days later, the teachers asked if the alarm’s batteries had been replaced—in some cases, the students said that their parents had just taken the alarm down.

Stories of people not knowing what to do when their alarm makes sounds are not uncommon, Vastis said. “After a while, that chirp can become white noise for some people and they ignore it until the battery dies. In other cases, they just think it means the alarm is broken or malfunctioning, so they take it down,” she said. Both scenarios are dangerous because most fire deaths occur in homes without working smoke alarms.

NFPA data shows that working smoke alarms reduce the risk of dying in a reported home fire by 55 percent. Nearly three out of five home fire deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarms or smoke alarms that failed to operate.

Over the course of FPW week, fire departments, schools, and other community organizations across North America will hold a series of in-person and remote events to educate residents about the actions to take when they hear beeps and chirps coming from smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. FPW resources—including tip sheets, educator packets, lesson plans, fundraising toolkits, merchandise, and more—are available at

Organizers have also included information on the site this year about alarms and strategies for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who may require special devices—ranging from low-frequency alarms, bed shakers, or even robots—to be alerted effectively in the event of a fire. A report released by the Fire Protection Research Foundation in August conducted an exhaustive review of available alarm technologies for deaf and hard-of-hearing populations, including a survey on what devices are used and how well they are perceived to work.

Watch a related NFPA Journal video about smoke alarm technologies for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

A tip sheet on fire safety for people who are deaf and hard of hearing is available on the FPW website in both English and Spanish.

JESSE ROMAN is senior editor at NFPA Journal. Top photograph: Getty Images