Smoke Detectors and Kids Follow-up - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

02/26/03

Smoke Detectors and Kids Follow-up

During our tests, most children slept peacefully through the alarm. During our tests, most children slept peacefully through the alarm.
Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine in our studio, reacting to our report. Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine in our studio, reacting to our report.

If your smoke detector goes off, your child might not hear it. In an exclusive report last month, we told you about the serious problem that could affect your family. Now we've spoken with another expert, the man over fire safety for the State of Georgia, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine. He is aware of the problem and he says the fire safety industry is in the process of manufacturing a smoke detector that would integrate a parent's voice with the sound of the alarm. They believe since kids are used to hearing their parents' voices, this combination will make it easier for them to wake up. But even without that, Oxendine believes you can teach your kids to respond when the smoke detector goes off.

It's hard for anyone to put the images out of their minds: children sleeping through the loud, annoying sound of smoke detectors. With the parents' permission we conducted a test on seven children between the ages of four and ten, using a night vision camera and a harmless fog machine, we set off the Grahams' smoke detector around 11pm that night. Caroline sleeps within five feet of the detector, Gabriella within ten feet. We waited nine minutes; the girls never woke up.

At the Colberts', their three girls slept right through the sound of the smoke detectors, even though we put the beeping alarm right by their ears. After eight minutes, the girls didn't even turn over.

At the Walkers', it took five minutes before Brian rolled over and put his hand over his ears. Then a couple of minutes later, he woke up, but laid down and went right back to sleep. Upstairs, his brother Matthew was still asleep although the detectors had been on for about six minutes. We took the beeping smoke detector in his room. After we held it near his ear, just like his brother, he also turned over and woke up, but he also went back to sleep.

This test shocked all of our parents. So we wanted to see what the man in charge of fire safety for the state of Georgia had to say. So when he came to town, we let him watch our results.

"It's really remarkable that kids would sleep through it," Oxendine said. "That's why it's a good thing to do fire drills at home at night. I think these children are hearing it, but it's not registering. Their ears are working, but their brain is so asleep it's not registering."

The insurance commissioner has an 11-year-old son.

"My son will sleep through almost anything in the world, he will wake up to my voice and to the smoke detector. I think it's because he's been trained that those two sounds mean get out of the bed," he told us.

Oxendine believes most children can be trained like his son to wake up to the smoke detector.

"It's probably going to take you taking the smoke detector to them and saying when you hear this, do this," Oxendine told us. "Do it every couple of nights until the child gets used to it. It may take them a week before they get trained, but I think in time, most children you can train to wake up to the sound."

He also advises sleeping with the doors closed to serve as a heat barrier and putting smoke detectors inside the bedrooms.

"Putting them in the bedroom is good, but only as an addition to having them in the hallway," he said.  "The hallway has to be there because that's where the early warning comes."

By practicing on a regular basis when the children are sleeping, you may be able to avoid the nightmare of your children sleeping when they should be doing what they know will save their lives.

The smoke detector the commissioner talked about isn't on the market yet, but there are quite a few already available that allow parents to record their voices. Even though this should be more effective, Oxendine still says when the smoke detector goes off, parents have to make sure their children are out of the house before they evacuate.

Reported by: Dawn Baker, dbaker@wtoc.com

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