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Smoke Alarm Frequencies Too High To Wake Children

Researchers at Dundee University and investigators from Derbyshire Fire and Rescue have conducted a trial on whether the frequencies of smoke alarms are too high to wake children. Of the 34 children included in the trial, only 7 woke up when the smoke alarms went off.

Subsequently, the researchers are developing a prototype alarm with a lower pitch, 520Hz compared to the usual frequency of 3000Hz. The alarm also has a female voice warning occupants of the detection of smoke.

The law requires smoke alarms to reach 85 decibels at 3m.

Dave Coss, watch manager at Derbyshire Fire and Rescue, said how the deaths of six children in a house fire in Derby pushed him to get involved with the research. The children, aged between 5 and 13 all slept through the sound of smoke alarms. Initially, it was thought the children were incapacitated in some way as they were all found in their beds. However, as toxicology reports were negative it was concluded the children didn’t respond to the smoke detector.

Gender Differentiation

Six tests were performed in each of the homes of the 34 children. The children were given no indication when to expect the alarms.

27 children slept through the alarms on all six tests. However, the 7 children who did wake up at least once were all girls. Suggesting that boys are particularly hard to wake. Researchers believe that boys will respond better to a human voice. As when the prototype alarm was used in one home, the four boys living there woke up immediately.

Brain Development

The University stated that children’s brain function, sleep patterns, hearing ability and stage of brain development is different to adults. Thus, suggesting why using traditional frequencies can be ineffective. The University also said: “We are programmed to respond to human voices warning of danger. Such as, a mother’s voice shouting to warn a child.

“Children are not born pre-programmed for our modern world of danger warning sounds from digital beeps and sirens – they have to learn, recognise and interpret these sounds.”

500 families in the UK with children aged between 2 and 16 are being sought to take part in a trial comparing standard smoke alarms with the new sound.

Professor Nic Daeid said: “Protecting our children in the event of fire is so fundamentally important that we want to involve parents and their children in expanding this research.”

The researchers highlighted the importance of the study not undermining the need for homes to be fitted with smoke alarms as they still wake adults.

Audio alarms are not the only option, there are pads available that fit under a pillow and vibrate when triggered. These are suitable for people with hearing difficulties.

The Chief Fire Officers Association said it was “crucial” that people tested their smoke alarms regularly. He adds: “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 be woken and evacuated as part of this plan.”

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