Will your smoke alarm wake up your child in case of fire?

Will your smoke alarm wake up your child in case of fire? »Play Video

Think your child will wake up if there's a fire in the middle of the night and the smoke alarm goes off? Don't count on it.  

The KATU Problem Solvers tested smoke alarms and kids to see if the alarms would wake up the children.

Miles and Cassandra Ulven, Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue employees, volunteered their daughter and niece for the test.

"I think it could help people just to show them what it's really like," said their daughter, 12-year-old Emma Ulven.

Her cousin, eight-year-old Ella Ulven, said she believed the smoke alarm would wake her up. "Probably because of all of the loudness," she said.

The children went to sleep, and at about 12:30 am, the Ulvens set off the alarm in the room where the girls were sleeping.

The Ulvens watched as the alarm blared. At first, neither child moved.

Time is crucial in a house fire. You may have about three minutes to get out safely.

"It only takes a short amount of time and a small amount of toxic smoke for an adult to become disoriented, let alone a child," said Cassandra Ulven.

It may take a minute for the smoke to build up enough to set off the smoke detector.  You may then have only two minutes to get out.

Finally, ten seconds after the alarm went off, Emma Ulven got up and walked toward the bedroom door. Ella Ulven continued to sleep.

Emma Ulven realized her cousin was not moving, despite the alarm.  She returned to the bed and tried to wake her up, but her cousin rolled over and continued to sleep.  Finally, after a minute with the alarm sounding, she convinced her cousin to get out of bed.

In the case of a real fire, they might have just sixty more seconds to get out of the house safely.

"I think it was a good experiment," said Emma Ulven. "I'm surprised that I woke up. I was so comfortable I think I could have slept right through it without a care."

Her mother asked Ella Ulven if she heard the alarm going off.

She said no.

The girls went back to bed, but Cassandra and Miles Ulven stayed up, talking about the test results.

"It's pretty startling how long it took," said Miles Ulven. "I thought our child would wake right up. But it took quite a bit longer."

"It's concerning," said Cassandra Ulven.

KATU tested smoke alarms with TVF&R in 2002. In that test, five children slept as the alarm blared for 12 minutes. Some of them even slept while their father held the alarm right over the heads.

A study published in Fire Safety Journal in 1999 found 85% of  kids ages six to seventeen did not wake up in a similar test.

And it's not just kids.

"Generally, it's the younger, the older and those with mild to moderate hearing loss are the most impacted," said Chief Steve Forster of TVF&R.

But Forster said new technology may help your family and save lives.

Most people have a high frequency alarm. But Forster said  research shows that a low frequency alarm is six to ten times more likely to wake everyone up.

Forster said low frequency alarms are now required for new commercial projects, like hotels and dorms, but the alarms may not be ready for homes for a year or more.

There is another option: a smoke alarm that allows parents to record their own voices talking to their child. The recorded message plays between the alarm sounds.

Forster said research shows this kind of alarm may be able to get your kids up more quickly. In one study, 100% of the children tested woke up when they heard a smoke alarm with their mother's voice.

"We want everybody to get out as quickly as they can, be notified as quickly as they can and start their evacuation plan as fast as they can," said Forster.

The Ulvens agreed to do the test again, the following night, with the voice alarm. This time, only their daughter was home, and this time, they did not tell her about the test.

At about 1:00 am, Cassandra Ulven set off the alarm.

"Wake up, Emma! Wake up, Emma!" the alarm played, along with a loud beep.

Her daughter woke up as soon as she heard her name, and sat up a few seconds sooner than with the traditional alarm.

No matter what kind of alarm you have, TVF&R recommends you do this same kind nighttime alarm test with your children, so you can se how long it takes them to wake up and practice your family's fire escape plan.

"They might think it's just easy and you could get out safely, but, it's a lot more dangerous than you think," said Emma Ulven.

No matter what kind of alarm you have, firefighters want you to come up with and practice a family escape plan.

Firefighters also recommend that you buy not just a standard ionization smoke alarm, but also a photo-electric smoke alarm, or an alarm that is a combination of the two, because the the alarms detect different types of fire.

How many smoke alarms should you have in your house? The answer to that and other questions here.