Life Times Newsletter

Spring 20008
Vol. 10, No. 2

If the smoke alarm sounds, will your kids wake up?

Rebecca Blocker, MS
Housing & Environmental Design Specialist

Smoke and fire alarms that wake adults may not pierce the very deep sleep of children ages 12 and younger. Studies show that a sleeping child will respond more quickly to the motherís
recorded voice than to the high-pitched beeps typically found in smoke detectors.

New talking smoke detectors allow you to record a personalized message calling your child by name and calmly saying there is a fire, to wake up and go outside. You can add simple
directions practiced in your fire drills.

A report in the October 2006 issue of PEDIATRICS shows 96 percent of children in one study woke to the motherís voice alarm, compared with only 58 percent to the tone alarm. The
median time to wake up was 20 seconds to an alarm that used the motherís voice, compared with 3 minutes in the tone alarm group. A study by Victoria University, Melbourne, shows 100
percent of children ages 6 to 15 woke quickly to the sound of their motherís voice, but only 6 percent responded to traditional high-pitched smoke alarms

Here are some recommendations to help keep your child safe in case of a fire in your home:

         Place a talking smoke detector inside each childís bedroom, directed toward the bed. Many models start at under $30. Select models with both recorded and conventional alarms.
In some detectors a built-in light activates.

         Create and practice a fire escape plan with two exits from each room and a meeting place outside. Buying an alarm is not enough. To protect children, you need both an alarm that
will wake them and an easy-to-follow, well-practiced escape route.

         Practice fire drills with the talking alarm when children are awake and when they are sleeping. If they donít practice hearing the alarm and waking from sleep, children wonít respond as
quickly in an emergency.

Most talking detectors have a fire-drill feature to practice your escape plan. According to the U.S. Fire administration, children as young as 3 years old can follow a fire escape plan if they have
practiced often.

         Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement.  The U.S. Fire Administration recommends installing smoke alarms on every level and both inside and outside
sleeping areas. There are two basic types of alarms. Ionization alarms sound more quickly when a flaming, fast-moving fire occurs. Photoelectric alarms are quicker at sensing smoldering,
smoky fires.

         For complete protection, select alarms with both heat and smoke sensors. Integrated wireless systems or hard-wired alarms that are linked together provide extra security because they all
sound if there is a fire. Another innovation is a laser beam to point the way to the nearest exit door.

         Take care of your smoke detectors.

o    Vacuum the detectorís cover plate.
Accumulated dust interferes with the sensors.

o    Replace detectors every 10 years.

o    Test detectors monthly.


When seconds save lives, practicing escape drills is the key to fire safety.

For more information about residential fire detection, visit the Web at

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University of Missouri Extension Editor: Roxanne T. Miller