Smoke Alarm Research May Help To Save Children’s Lives

Researchers from the University of Dundee are seeking hundreds of families to help them trial a new smoke alarm sound aimed specifically at waking children.

The number of lives lost as a result of fires has fallen by half since home usage of smoke alarms became widespread. However, there is evidence to suggest that some children do not wake to commonly used smoke alarms.

This has prompted a research study by professor Niamh Nic Daeid of the University of Dundee’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) and her research student Dave Coss, a fire investigator and watch commander with Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service. The project is also supported by Derby Housing and smoke alarm manufacturer Ei Electronics.

The research showed that children respond to different tones and frequencies of alarm than adults and that boys and girls are wakened by a different combination of sounds. The research team investigated different sounds and found that a low frequency intermittent bleep-rest-bleep pattern followed by a recorded spoken message appeared to be effective in waking up both boys and girls, with preliminary tests indicating a 90% success rate.

Research shows that children respond to different tones and frequencies of alarm than adults.
Research shows that children respond to different tones and frequencies of alarm than adults.

The researchers are now asking families to take part in what will be the largest citizen science project ever attempted in this research area.

Professor Niamh NicDaeid says: “We know that smoke alarms are vital in making our homes and communities safe in the event of a fire. Our research has demonstrated however, that the current smoke alarms used do not always wake children from sleep.

“The first stage of the project tested 34 children, both boys and girls, of varying ages, to see if they woke when a smoke alarm was activated. The tests were carried out in the family home and 80 per cent of the children, including all of the boys slept through the alarm. 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.”

Anyone interested in taking part in the smoke alarm study needs to have children under 16 years of age and should contact the research team at:

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