UL Panel to Study Why Some Children May Not Awaken to Smoke Alarms


Underwriters Laboratories (UL) says it has formed two ad hoc working groups to gather information and study the issue of why some children might not awaken when a smoke alarm sounds.

National attention in November was placed on this issue after television stations in Milwaukee and Ft. Worth, Texas, coordinated demonstrations with local families and fire departments to gauge effectiveness of fire evacuation plans. Reporters were surprised to find that some children slept soundly through activated smoke alarms.

A Standards Technical Panel (STP) meeting held March 7 at UL’s Northbrook, Ill., headquarters set up the two working groups. The first group will be made up of pediatric sleep experts, safety engineers, government officials and manufacturers to make proposals for future research to better understand the physiological and technical aspects of this issue. The information it gathers is expected to lead to new research that could provide the basis for changes to the way smoke alarms operate and/or the way in which they are installed and used.

The second working group, comprised of members from UL, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fire prevention and education specialists, and manufacturers, will develop educational and publicity campaigns to raise public awareness of smoke alarm and fire safety issues.

Both groups will report back to the STP by May 30.

“Based on what we heard from pediatric sleep experts and fire prevention officials, there might not be a single answer to this complicated issue,” said John Drengenberg, UL’s manager of Consumer Affairs and moderator for the discussion. “It seems clear, however, that some children, especially young children, may at times sleep so deeply that it may not be possible for the alarm alone to arouse them to the point where they can reliably evacuate a house on their own. If, and until, a technological solution can be found, public education on the issue will be a pressing concern for the fire safety community.”

Performance of smoke alarms is addressed by two UL Standards for Safety: UL 217, Standard for Single and Multiple Station Smoke Alarms; and UL 268, Standard for Smoke Detectors for Fire Protective Signaling Systems. The installation, use and maintenance of smoke alarms are addressed by the National Fire Alarm Code, NFPA 72, Chapter 11, Single- and Multiple-Station Alarms and Household Fire Alarm Systems.

The information gathered at the UL STP meeting will also be shared with the Underwriters’ Laboratories of Canada (ULC) Subcommittee on Smoke and Heat Detectors and Alarms, which meets to discuss the issue with Canadian authorities at its upcoming meeting in April in Toronto.

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