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Smoke Alarms—Do They Wake Children?


I was presented with a challenge about smoke alarms, I was asked to investigate why there are all these news stories out there about how children don’t wake up when the traditional smoke alarm goes off, but at the same time, we don’t see personalized smoke alarms being marketed widely.


There was also a comprehensive study done by Pediatrics—the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics:  Comparison of a Personalized Parent Voice Smoke Alarm With a Conventional Residential Tone Smoke Alarm for Awakening Children
Gary A. Smith, MD, DrPH, Mark Splaingard, MD, John R. Hayes, PhDa and Huiyun Xiang, MD, PhD, MPH PEDIATRICS Vol. 118 No. 4 October 2006, pp. 1623-1632 (doi:10.1542/peds.2006-0125)

In a story by WISC-TV in Madison, Wisconsin, Dr. Kathryn Middleton, a sleep medicine specialist for Dean Health System/St. Mary's Hospital, said that there are physiological reasons why kids may not respond to loud noises while sleeping.

"You really cannot count on a kid of any young age awakening knowing what to do," Middleton told WISC-TV, “Children have more deep-sleep than adults, the sleep that's difficult to awaken from.” A child may spend 30 percent, a third of their night, in deep sleep. “Whereas an adult could often be more like 10 percent," said Dr. Middleton.

St. Mary's Hospital Sleep Lab Technician Dave Sprecher said kids sleep soundly because they're growing."The body releases more growth hormones in deep sleep than it does during the entire day," said Sprecher. "Kids do the majority of their growing at night when they're sleeping." Studies show that even when children wake during a deep, or “slow-wave” sleep, they are often not alert.

"You wouldn't be surprised if a person would awaken from slow-wave sleep, and not know where they were and not know to get out of the smoke," said Dr. Middleton.

Conduct drills at night, after the children are sleeping.  They will need to be trained to the sound of the alarm, similarly to how they are 'trained' to wake up to an alarm clock.

As a firefighter, educator, and the mother of small children, these stories shock and frighten me!  I tried to find personalized smoke alarms on the market, but was able to track down only one company that offers these alarms, but they are not available widely in the US.

Many other major companies offer a “talking smoke alarm,” but these are all pre-recorded messages that cannot be changed. I could find no studies that tested the effectiveness of the pre-recorded message alarms.

One way to help kids wake up to the sound of the smoke alarm is to practice your fire drill often — including the middle of the night. Train children to hear, understand, and react to the alarm, and teach them precisely how to react.

Test your smoke alarms often; make sure you hold the test button down long enough to set off all the connected alarms in the house. Make sure that everyone can hear the alarms behind closed doors where family members might be sleeping. 


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Comment by milli cater on March 6, 2019 at 4:23am

A smoke alarm should be tested to see if the smoke detector is working in the event of a fire. There are people who are checking it at least once a month themselves or resort to specialty smoke testing Jacksonville FL for more complex evaluations. The test should be done during the day to not perturb your neighbors or your family members.

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