Security Blog

Forensic scientists and fire investigators warn that smoke alarms may not wake children in a fire

Researchers at Dundee University and Derbyshire Fire and Rescue found that out of 34 children tested, 27 slept through a traditional smoke detector being in alarm. Instead, they have developed an alarm with a lower pitch and a woman's voice, which issues a vocal warning: "Wake up, the house is on fire." Standard smoke alarms have a frequency of around 3000Hz, but the prototype has a lower pitch of 520Hz, a frequency at which young children are more likely to respond.

Dave Coss, is involved in the research following the deaths of six children in a house fire in Derby in 2012, which was started deliberately by their parents. The children, aged five to 13, all slept through the sound of smoke alarms. "When we investigated this tragic case, we thought the children may have been incapacitated in some way and prevented from getting up, as all were found in their beds." Toxicology reports proved negative, so the only other option was that "the children didn't respond to the smoke detector and just carried on sleeping".

The researchers said it was important the study did not undermine the need for every home to be fitted with smoke alarms, as these will wake adults and had a proven record in saving lives. The Fire Industry Association, which represents manufacturers of smoke alarms, said it had done no specific research with a focus on children but there were different types of alarm available, such as vibrating pads that could fit under a pillow, for those with hearing problems.

The Chief Fire Officers Association said it was "crucial" that people tested their smoke alarms regularly, adding: "As this research does indicate that some children may not wake to the sound of a smoke alarm, parents, guardians and responsible adults should ensure that they prepare an escape plan which must account for this. "Children must woken and evacuated as part of this plan."

- 23 February 2017

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