Smoke alarms are designed to sound annoying, so there's nothing worse than when one randomly goes off. Although you might be irritated as you get up off the couch to fix the latest false alarm, nobody can deny that you still appreciate that annoying noise when there is, in fact, a fire. But, how effective are smoke alarms at really waking people up when they're asleep, especially kids? A new study found that smoke alarms using mom's voices wake kids up faster. It seems the high-pitched alarm might be annoying when you're awake, but it's not enough to wake up kids quickly from their sleep, which is important in the event of a fire.
In the United States, fire departments responded to approximately 358,500 home structure fires per year from 2011 to 2015, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Additionally, house fires account for $6.7 billion in direct damage each year, the NFPA noted.
These house fires caused 12,300 injuries to people (excluding firefighters) and 2,510 deaths each year during that same time period. According to the NFPA, an average of seven people die in U.S. home fires each and every day.
You might think a house fire could never happen to you, but it's better to be safe. Kids have a knack for sleeping through just about anything, though, so it's important to know how well a smoke alarm might wake them up.
In a new study published by The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers decided to look into the effectiveness of traditional smoke alarms compared to maternal voice alarms. These voice alarms would include the child's mother's voice using the child's name, as outlined by the study's abstract.
Researchers worked with 176 children ages 5 through 12. They found that most children ages 5 through 8 took over five minutes to wake up with a traditional alarm, according to the CBC, but took just four seconds to wake up when they heard their mother's voice.
The study's lead author, Dr. Gary Smith, said, according to CBC:
"The thing that was most remarkable to us was to see a child sleep five minutes through a very loud high-pitched tone, but then sit bolt upright in bed when their mothers voice sounded through the alarm. We didn't expect the difference to be so dramatic."
In addition, researchers found that the maternal voice in general outperformed the regular smoke alarm. Personalizing the alarm using a child's first name didn't increase the alarm effectiveness.
This shows some promise for future studies. If researchers can prove that a generic female voice is just as effective, manufacturers could easily implement that into a new smoke alarm design. However, it's still important to note that the standard alarms did work.
As Smith said, according to CBC, "We don't want to give the impression that parents should stop using the high-pitched tone alarms. They will wake up the adults and they can then rescue the children. They are lifesaving. In this country, about half of the residential fire deaths are in homes without alarms."
There are approximately five million homes without smoke alarms, according to Good Housekeeping. And in 2004 home fire deaths, about 65 percent happened in homes that either didn't have smoke alarms or where smoke alarms weren't working, according to the Red Cross.
Smoke alarms may be annoying to hear, but they save lives. This study shows promise for a new, optimal smoke alarm design that will help make children even safer.