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Monday, March 28, 2011

Children don’t wake to fire alarms

Many parents sleep soundly knowing that their home smoke detectors will awaken them and their children in case of a fire. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to hold true for children. Dorothy Brock and Ian Thomas of Victoria University, Melbourne conducted a small study testing whether children will wake up to alarms. The chilling answer is that most will not.

The parents of 123 children aged 5 to 15 were asked to wait until the kids had been asleep for at least an hour and then set off the nearest smoke detector for 30 seconds. The parents then charted whether the kids woke up at all, and if they did, whether they understood why they had been awakened and what they should do (i.e. evacuate the house). Overall, 78% of the children slept right through the alarm. In the 5 to 10 age group, a whopping 87% slept through. Of the lighter sleepers who did wake up, less than half indicated that they knew they must leave the house.

If this data holds true, only about 10% of kids can be relied upon to respond to a smoke alarm by waking up and leaving the house. In this study, the alarms were only sounded for 30 seconds. In all likelihood, an ongoing claxon would eventually awaken more children. However, in a fire, those extra minutes can be extremely costly.

According to Bruck:

Parents should not rely on their children waking to the smoke alarm in the event of a fire and should not assume that they will immediately evacuate if they do wake up to a fire.