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Sleeping and Fire Alarms

Ability of smoke alarms to waken children questioned: Concern has risen over the effectiveness of smoke alarms to waken sleeping children. Growing concern that children can sleep through a blaring smoke alarm is an emerging issue in Canada and the United States. In the United States, the National Fire Protection Association responded to a news program that showed a simulated fire emergency in which children sleep through a smoke alarm sounding.





As a result, NFPA updated its fact sheet entitled `Home Fire Escape Planning and Practice'. It includes: "Allow children to master fire escape planning and practice before holding a fire drill at night when they are sleeping. The objective is to practice, not to frighten, so telling children there will be a drill before they go to bed can be as effective as a surprise drill. If children or others do not readily waken to the sound of the smoke alarm, or if there are infants or family members with mobility limitations, make sure that someone is assigned to assist them in a fire drill."

The majority of fatal fires in Ontario occur at night in people's homes. This is incorporated in the Ontario Fire Code: "Smoke alarms shall be installed between each sleeping area and the remainder of the dwelling area, and where the sleeping areas are served by hallways, the smoke alarms shall be installed in the hallways." In Ontario, an experiment was conducted in 2002 by Fire Prevention Officer Derrick Ethridge from Loyalist Township Emergency Services to see if a group of local grade six children could hear the smoke alarm when they were sleeping.

All 84 children were exposed to two separate smoke alarm tests between 9pm and 11pm while sleeping. From these tests, 53% of the children tested did not react in less than one minute. This included 31% of children who did not respond at all. Other research includes an Australian study that showed children under age 15 were likely to sleep through smoke alarms. The reasons why children don't hear or react to a smoke alarm may vary. Parents won't know how their children will react to the smoke alarm until they test their responses. Children's safety is the responsibility of the caregiver. Planning and practicing a home escape plan is essential, along with working smoke alarms on every level and outside all sleeping areas.

NOTE: This issue does not only affect children but also other adults.