Ten Kiwis have died in house fires this year where working smoke alarms hadn't been installed.
Last year, 16 people died in house fires and alarms were installed in just two of the houses.
The shocking death toll was revealed by Peter Wilding, of the Fire Service, which is today launching a new safety awareness campaign to get Kiwi families to include smoke alarms in their Santa sacks.
"We think smoke alarms are better than socks as gifts for students or people who are hard to buy for," Wilding said.
Some people intended to install alarms but never got around to it, he said. Others had an "it'll never happen to me" mindset.
"For those who are less concerned about personal safety, we are mindful that they often live in homes with children and they are the ones who are often affected by fire," Wilding said.
The campaign comes after a horror November, when four people died in house fires in Hamilton.
Connor James Swetman, Toni Maree Johnston and Jake Hayes lost their lives when a 91-year-old villa went up in flames in the early hours of November 15.
Three-year-old O'rlandau Kingi-Day died in a house fire in the city on November 9.
An 18-month-old boy is still fighting for his life after a house fire in Mt Wellington, Auckland, last Saturday.
Wilding said photo-electric smoke alarms - which typically have a 10-year life span - should be in every bedroom and in the hallways between living areas and bedrooms.
The Fire Service is also drafting a proposal to make it mandatory for smoke alarms to be installed and maintained in residential rental properties, where most fatal house fires occur. "Smoke is a silent killer. Most people who die simply go to sleep and don't wake up again," Wilding said.
This was backed by forensic pathologist Dr Martin Sage, who performed autopsies on five to 10 fire victims a year, most of whom had succumbed to smoke before the flames reached them.
"By the time they get retrieved quite often they're quite seriously incinerated, but they were dead before they were seriously burnt," he said.
"You can see the fact that people have inhaled a whole lot of soot. It's visible with the naked eye, dramatically so in some cases.
"I think some people discount the advertising that the Fire Service does, but sadly the Fire Service is absolutely right.
"I often see people who have died in circumstances where they really didn't have to," Sage said.