Study: Fire Alarms Don’t Wake Children; UL to Improve Smoke Alarm System
NBC5i.com reports that, in recent weeks, five children in Dallas/Ft. Worth have died in fires inside homes that were not equipped with working smoke detectors. Even as experts remind people of the life-saving potential of these devices, the NBC television news affiliate has found that they usually do not work to wake children.
Although school children are taught that smoke detectors are designed to give an early warning to a fire, and are routinely put through drills so that they know how to respond in a fire emergency, officials say the likelihood of a fire at school is low, but that it is more common to happen at home—most likely at night—when the children are sleeping.
The television news channel went to the homes of several North Texas families where children begin a fire drill. With hopes that the children could make it to a meeting point in under two minutes during the fire drill, none of the children were even aware that the drill had started, sleeping soundly through the blaring alarm.
The children said they never heard the alarm and that they had never practiced with the alarm going off. Some parents now hold drills at home using the alarms so that their children can associate the sound with an emergency situation.
John Herman, a pediatric sleep expert with UT Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, says that it’s normal for 9-year-olds to sleep through virtually anything, “and to not expect the alarms to wake your children. It is the parent’s responsibility to ensure their children’s safety in such an emergency.”
State Fire Marshal G. Mike Davis says: “I don’t know that I have ever considered it, the possibility of children not waking up. Unfortunately, what this tape shows me, children aren’t conditioned to react and respond the way we want them to do when a smoke detector goes off.”
John Dregenberg, manager of consumer affairs for UL, said, “the information on children’s response to smoke alarms, is relatively new information and will be part of our next standards development meeting on smoke alarms.” Dregenberg added that the meeting will come early next year and improvements are possible as a result of the new information provided by NBC 5. “It’s information we need to set the safety standard for the United States,” Dregenberg said.
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