In This Issue

Wake-Up Call

Kids sleep through smoke alarms—and you might, too

April 3, 2008

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a disturbing study in 2006. It suggested that 6- to 12-year-old children do not wake up to traditional smoke alarms. Instead, they sleep through three minutes of screeching beeps.

If you’re a parent, you know that’s two minutes and 59 seconds too long.

And yet, it makes sense. After all, how many times have you or someone you know slept through an alarm clock? The beep of a smoke alarm, although louder, doesn’t sound all that different.

Other studies have found that adolescents, the elderly and anyone who may have ingested drugs (alcohol, sleeping aids, prescription drugs or any medication that causes drowsiness), might also lack the ability to respond to traditional smoke alarms while sleeping.

Smoke detectors that help

One type of smoke detector is attempting to address this problem by using human voices rather than shrill beeps. These alarms use recordings to alert children and people of all ages to the danger of fire.

One of the most popular versions, the SignalOne Vocal Smoke Alarm (previously the KidSmart Vocal Smoke Alarm) allows parents to record their own voices into a photoelectric alarm that easily detects smoldering fires. It then uses the recording to alert sleeping children. Studies have shown that this alarm wakes children in less than 30 seconds. It is most effective when a female voice, preferably a mother’s, is the one recorded.

Another product, the Kidde DC Voice Combo Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Detector Alarm, uses ionization-based technology to detect fast-flaming fires that can quickly spread throughout a house. Instead of a shrill beep, it alerts those in the home with a prerecorded voice that warns, “Fire, fire!”

Similarly, The First Alert / One Link Talking Battery Operated Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Alarm comes with 11 prerecorded messages that can be programmed to announce which room the fire or smoke is in. These detectors can be wirelessly connected to each other so that if the alarm in the kitchen senses smoke, all the other alarms in the house will announce “Warning, evacuate! Smoke in the kitchen!”

Keep your family safe

Regardless of the type of smoke detector you use to protect your family from the dangers of a nighttime fire, remember:

  • Test it: You only know what will work if you’ve done the drill.
  • But don’t test it too often: The School of Psychology at Victoria University suggests that the sound of the alarm should not be one that a child hears frequently when sleeping. If it is, he or she will become familiar with it and can easily sleep through it.
  • Talk about it: Let your family know how they’ll be alerted to a fire, since every house has different alarms. Engage them in researching different safety techniques. (Check firesafety.gov for basic rules.)
  • Research it: Learn about the different types of fire and smoke detectors and choose a model that you’re comfortable with.
  • Maintain it: Check your fire and smoke detector at least once a year, and replace the batteries just as often. Replace all smoke detectors in your home every 5–10 years, depending on model and warranty.
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