Parents News Now

Would Your Home's Fire Alarm Wake Your Kids? Are You Sure?

A study shows that 80 percent of kids will sleep right through the sound of a smoke alarm. 

little girl sleeping in bed with stuffed animal Jandrie Lombard/Shutterstock
As a parent, it's probably one of your biggest fears: The fire alarm goes off in your home, and your kids sleep right through it. But according to a new study, this is exactly what happens the majority of the time. Which is why researchers are now calling for the standard high-pitched alarms to be replaced with lower tones and a woman's voice that mimics mom's.

Dave Coss, a UK fire investigator and watch commander, carried out the study with Niamh NicDaeid, a professor at the University of Dundeeby. They repeatedly exposed 34 sleeping children ages 2 to 13 to the sound of industry-standard smoke detectors inside their homes. The shocking result? More than 80 percent of the kids did not respond to the alarm. And get this: Only two of the kids woke up every single time, and none of the 14 boys woke up at all—so scary!

"When we started to explore why this was happening and we looked at other types of frequencies of sound, we found out that a lower frequency sound combined with a voice—generally a female voice—was much more effective at waking children up," NicDaeid told BBC Radio 4's Today. "And in fact, it woke up 94 percent of children that we tested."

Pretty big difference. Which is why more than 500 families are now being sought across the UK to join a new study that will test different fire alarm sounds. Here in the U.S., a reporter for WRBL in Georgia decided to take matters into her own hands by asking LaGrange Fire Department Public Information Officer Chris Taylor to come to her house and teach her three girls a fire safety plan. They learned how to crawl under smoke to escape, stop drop and roll if they catch on fire, and escape through the window on a rope ladder.

But even after practicing the safety plan for hours, when the reporter later set off the smoke detector in the house while her kids were sleeping to see what would happen, the alarm went off for one full minute and yet not one child responded. So she tried again. And again. Even with her kids' bedroom doors propped wide open, there was still no response.

"Kids go into a deep sleep versus an adult in a different REM sleep," Dr. Karyn Hunnicutt of the Pediatrician Children's Clinic of LaGrange explained to WBRL. "When they're in that sleep, they are able to take high-pitch noises. Hard to arouse them in that deep sleep."

But the same kids in the same sleep pattern responded much quicker to the sound of a parent's voice. Too bad you can't find alarms like these in any store. "It's kind of disturbing to know we found this research that says we don't need traditional [alarms], we need voice activated—but we really had a hard time finding [them] from a reputable venue," said Hunnicutt. "I think the bottom line... is that you cannot depend on smoke alarms for younger children. A parent needs to have a plan in place that if a fire alarm goes off, each parent has a plan to go get that individual [child]."

I don't know about you guys, but this is definitely something I plan to implement in my own home.

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her website for more, and then follow her on Instagram and Twitter.