Smoke alarms: Not all wake 'deep-sleeping' children

12:24 PM, Nov 13, 2012   |    comments
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PAINESVILLE TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- There are few times when seconds matter more than in a house fire.

But experts say only about one in three children can successfully escape from a house fire on their own.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, two-thirds of Americans have a fire escape plan, but only one-third have practiced that plan.

Firefighters and doctors say the type of alarm a child hears can make a difference.

Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Columbus (now Nationwide Children's Hospital) examined the issue.

Smoke detector comparison study 

24 children ages 6 to 12 were observed during deep sleep (stage 4 sleep). The testers set off a high-decibel beeping smoke alarm. 

Just 58 percent of the children woke up to the nois, and an even lower number correctly performed a fire escape drill.

Doctors are still researching the reasons why children do not respond to noise while sleeping the same way adults do. 

For firefighters, the concern is what can happen in the time it takes children to wake up and escape a house fire -- if they wake up at all.

"It's the smoke that's the killer. It's not the fire. It's the gasses in the smoke that are killer. So the importance of the smoke detector is early warning," says Painesville Township Fire Chief Frank Whittaker.

Firefighters say a fire will quadruple in size as the time doubles.

Researchers then tested voice-recorded smoke alarms on the same group of children.

These alarms allow parents to record a specific message for each child that plays at a loud decibel intermittent with beeping noise. 

For example, Channel 3 News producer Jon Adkins tested the voice-recorded alarms at his home when his three children (ages 10 and under) were sleeping. 

The alarm in our test is made by KidSmart, chosen for its positive reviews online. It retails from around $30-$40.

Suzanna Adkins recorded a personal message for each of her kids and the smoke alarms were set off in each of the children's rooms: 

"Morgan, wake up! It's Mommy. There's a fire in the house! You'll be okay, Morgan. Remember what we practiced. Get out of your room, go down the stairs, and meet me outside!"

The Adkins' 7-year-old daughter, Morgan, woke up and performed the fire escape drill to the voice-recorded alarm, whereas the standard beeping alarm did not wake her up at all.

Her response is in line with what researchers found:

In the hospital study, 96 percent of the children not only woke up to the voice-recorded alarm, they correctly performed an escape drill.

"It's a reinforcement of a lesson. How can you say that won't work? Anything that improves the chances of getting out is good," Chief Whittaker said, of the product.

For more information on smoke alarm safety and the Columbus study, click on the links on this page.

Vocal smoke detectors on 

Parents should be aware: the KidSmart alarm is battery operated, and is not linked to a household alarm system.

It is an individual unite with batteries that must be regularly tested and changed, according to fire department recommendations.


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