Drills Reveal Smoke Alarms Can't Always Wake Children

The Tampa Tribune
December 3, 2006

With each shriek of the smoke alarm, Mary Clark of Tampa became more and more anxious. The doors and windows to the house were all closed. But the ear-piercing beeps were so loud, even her neighbors who stood in her driveway could hear them.
But her 3-year-old son JC and their 7-year-old neighbor Brianna didn't. Both slept through the alarm perched just a few feet from the bedroom.
There was no fire. No smoke. It was fortunately just a home fire drill. But that didn't ease Clark's mind. "It's very scary, not knowing if he's going to wake up. What if I can?t wake him up or don't hear it?" Clark said.
Studies conducted by researchers in Columbus, Ohio, including those from the Children's Hospital and Children's Research Institute, show children ages 6 through 12 sleep so soundly that even smoke alarms don't wake them. And if they do wake, the response time is so delayed, that in the case of a real fire, it could be too late.
"It could be devastating," said Capt. Bill Wade of Tampa Fire Rescue.
Tests such as the one at Clark's home reinforce the need for "parents to have a plan to respond to the smoke alarm and obviously not rely on kids to get themselves out of the house."
A tone alarm and an alarm that allowed Clark to record her voice and specifically address her child by name were set off after the children fell asleep. Neither woke them, even after four minutes.
She is now considering a wireless smoke alarm system that has units in various locations within the house, including an alarm in her child's bedroom. Wade said the system triggers all of the alarms to sound when one detects smoke.
But he cautions parents against only placing a smoke alarm in the child's bedroom. Units in the hallway leading to bedrooms still are necessary.
"More than likely, [the bedroom alarm] will not be the first smoke alarm to sound. It's probably not the place where the fire will start," Wade said.
For families in multilevel structures such as two-story homes, townhouses, and apartment buildings, Wade reminds parents to teach their children how to escape a fire, especially when they can't leave through the front door.
Consider the ease of opening the window. Once they do that, how will they get to the ground? Are there cars or bushes underneath the window?
"A 13-year-old young man in average condition may be able to jump from a second-floor window to the ground and be OK. But can a 5-year-old do that? Can a 10-year-old do that?" Wade asked.
Fire safety is a particular concern during the holidays, when extra lights and candles are prevalent. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Christmas trees are involved in 300 home fires a year.
So squeeze in some safety time between those shopping trips. It could ensure a safe holiday season for you and your family.
Keyword: Smoke Alarm, to watch Victoria Lim's special report on testing smoke alarms and how to develop a family fire safety plan.