Mother’s Voice More Effective than Smoke Alarm Alert

Smoke alarms are intended to wake everyone in the house and give them a chance to escape a house fire. But what if there’s something even more effective than a smoke alarm?

There is: A mother’s voice.

Researchers have found that a sleeping child is around three times more likely to be wakened by one of three voice alarm that has a mother’s voice rather than the one with a tone or high-pitched noise.

With our previous post about how quickly a fire can happen around the holidays, this is incredibly important information for people with children. In residential fires, deaths are more likely to occur during fires that happen at night, while people are sleeping. While smoke alarms are important for preventing these deaths, children often sleep more deeply than older people, don’t wake up to traditional smoke alarms, claim the report in The Journal of Pediatrics.

For the study, the researchers examined four different types of smoke alarms to determine which ones woke children the fastest or most effectively. In addition to a standard high-pitched smoke alarm, they tested three smoke alarms that used the mother’s voice in addition to the traditional alarm sound.

Conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Sleep Disorders Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, the research included 176 children 5 to 12 years of age studied at a sleep research center in Columbus.

Alarms using the mother’s voice woke 86-91 percent of the children, concluded the study, and prompted 84-86 percent to “escape” from the bedroom. This is compared to a shockingly low percentage of 53 awakened and 51 escaped with the tone alarm alone.

The researchers also studied the effect of the different alarms on how quickly the children were able to “escape” from the bedroom, as seconds can make a difference in a real fire. Even if a child wakes, but takes too long to leave the burning building, serious injury or death could occur. Another shocking outcome: the traditional alarm had a median time to escape at 282 seconds (that’s almost five minutes!), while the voice alarms ranged from just 18 to 28 seconds.

“Children are remarkably resistant to awakening by sound when asleep,” said Mark Splaingard, MD, co-author of the study and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Children sleep longer and deeper than adults and require louder sounds to awaken than adults. For these reasons, children are less likely to awaken and escape a nighttime home fire. The fact that we were able to find a smoke alarm sound that reduces the amount of time it takes for many children 5 to 12 years of age to wake up and leave the bedroom could save lives.”

Voice smoke alarms are readily available at your local hardware store (here’s a selection from a major chain), and the evidence seems extremely convincing. Perhaps when you check your smoke alarm batteries at the new year, you should think about replacing it with one of these voice smoke alarms. We know that we will sleep better at night.

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