Fire: Smoke Alarms & ResearchResearch shows that smoke alarms do not wake some young children
In a disturbing 2003 report from the office of the Washington State Fire Marshal, it was revealed that fire deaths were up 17 percent in Washington state in 2002. Fire took 70 lives last year, compared with 60 in 2001. Three of the deaths were in Clark County.
In the winter of 2003 the news media reported concerns about the results of testing with smoke alarms and little kids. The tests focused on young children to determine whether smoke alarms (also known as smoke detectors) would wake them in the event of a fire. In that study, the children did not wake up to the sound of the alarm. The tests stirred public concern and a lot of discussion at the fire service. Fire safety educators continue to discuss the subject, and have agreed that some additional emphasis needs to be placed on practicing home escape plans at night, and on the role of personal responsibility.
- Personal responsibility is key. Each household is responsible for making sure they have a working fire safety plan in place
- Part of a good escape plan is to identify household members who may not wake up to a smoke alarm and address how to deal with that situation
- Recognize the actual dangers of smoke and fire. Reinforce essential family safety messages, including the fact that people have only a few minutes to escape
The Fire Marshal reminds residents that a smoke alarm (also called a smoke detector) can give an early warning of a fire, significantly increasing the chance of escape and survival. "They are among the most important safety measures in the home," he says. They work effectively, around the clock. The state reported that 53% of last year's fatal fires occurred in homes with no working smoke alarms.
WHAT PARENTS CAN DO
Parents concerned about their children waking to the smoke alarm and escaping should have a family meeting and develop (draw) their escape plan to include two ways out of every room (if safe and possible,) a family meeting place and instructions for calling 9-1-1 from a neighbor's house.
The next step is to practice the plan. The first time should not be a surprise drill. Discuss it as a family and practice it. Have an adult sound the alarm and all members of the family exit (have them exit from different rooms.) After the drill discuss how it went. Parents should have children go to their rooms and close the doors. They should then sound the alarm to determine if it is audible in all bedrooms. If it is not, they need to place alarms in the bedrooms.
The next drill should be unannounced. An adult should sound the alarm during the day and see how the family reacts. Again they should discuss how it went.
The next unannounced drill should be at night when kids are sleeping. Again, the adult sounds the alarm and then evaluates the effectiveness of the practice sessions, and repeats as necessary. To enhance the effectiveness of the drills, parents may cut off one of the usual egresses and force the family members to use the second way out.
Kids need to recognize the sound of the smoke alarm and practice what to do repeatedly! If they discuss it and never practice, it's much less likely to work effectively. Practice can help counteract the effects of surprise, fear and adrenaline.
Smoke alarms have a usable life span of ten years and then should to be replaced. Newer models on the market have a convenient "hush" feature and come with 10-year lithium batteries. They are highly recommended because they require less maintenance than the models that require biannual battery replacement. Smoke alarms usually cost between $10-$20 and are available in hardware and department stores. Residents who cannot afford to buy a smoke alarm should call Clark County Fire District 5, the number is 360 397 2100.