Age-Dependent Responsiveness to Smoke Alarm Signals Among Children.

Journal: Pediatrics

Objectives: Although it has been established that smoke alarms have more difficulty awakening children from sleep than adults, no attempt has been previously made to characterize how smoke alarm responsiveness changes with age during childhood. The objective of this study is to evaluate the age-dependent responsiveness to various smoke alarm signals among children 5 to 12 years old.

Methods: The effect of age on children's response to 4 types of smoke alarms (human voice, hybrid voice-tone, low-frequency tone, and high-frequency tone) was evaluated using combined data from 3 previous studies.

Results: There were 540 subjects (median age 9 years; 51.7% male). The proportion of children who awakened demonstrated a statistically significant (P < .001) increase of 3.1% to 7.6% for each additional year of age between 5 and 12 years old for the 4 alarm types. Similarly, child age showed a statistically significant (P < .001) effect on the proportion who escaped for each of the 4 alarm types. The proportion of subjects who awakened or escaped did not differ significantly by sex for any of the alarm types. Median time-to-awaken and median time-to-escape decreased with increase in child age for all alarm types.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates the substantial influence of child age on the effectiveness of audible smoke alarms during childhood. Among 12-year-olds, only 56.3% escaped within 1 minute (and 67.6% within 2 minutes) to a high-frequency tone. However, a hybrid voice-low-frequency tone alarm is >96% effective at awakening and prompting escape within 1 minute among children 9 years and older.

Gary Smith, Sandhya Kistamgari, Mark Splaingard