After the death of 6 children in a house fire in 2012, research was undertaken into children’s responses to domestic smoke alarms. In the 2012 fire, the children were all found in their beds and had not been incapacitated in any way.
In 2013, a preliminary study into the ability of domestic smoke alarms to wake children was led by Professor Niamh Nic Daeid (Dundee University) and Dave Coss (Watch Manager at Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service). The study involved 6 tests on 34 children aged 5 to 13 years. It found that 27 of the children tested did not respond to a smoke alarm when it activated in their home. These 27 slept through the alarms in all 6 tests. 7 of the children, all girls, woke at least once.
The BBC reported on 23rd February that Dundee University has now developed a prototype alarm with a lower pitch and a woman’s voice, to which they believe children are more likely to respond. The University and Derbyshire FRS are seeking 500 families in the UK with children between 2 and 16 to test the new alarm in order to compare its effectiveness against a standard smoke alarm. To take part, go to http://www.derbys-fire.gov.uk/keeping-safe/smoke-alarm-study.
In the meantime, there is no question that smoke alarms save lives. Advice from the fire service remains to fit smoke detectors in each level of your home, to test them weekly and for parents/guardians/responsible adults to have an escape plan in place which includes waking and evacuating children. KBC were recently involved in investigating a fire in which a parent and child failed to escape. It is important to create an escape plan in your home and make sure everyone understands it. Most, if not all, fire and rescue services can help you devise a plan and will visit your home free of charge to offer advice. Contact details of your local fire service can be found at http://www.fireservice.co.uk/information/ukfrs/.
Jenny Gray, Keith Borer Consultants