Rude Awakening: Smoke Alarm Conclusion Could be Dead Wrong

Concern about kids sleeping through alarms could be greater than reality, but it raises some good questions.


More research needs to be initiated, and quickly. Many factors need to be taken into account and several questions need to be answered, for example: at what ages do children sleep through an audible smoke alarm signal; what factors might contribute to some hearing adults sleeping through the signal; what is the best signal for people of all ages; and whether other audible sounds (such as voice annunciation announcements) are more effective at wakening children and adults. The answers lie in scientifically based research.

As safety groups including NFPA explore the issue, there is still very good reason to remain confident about the role of smoke alarms in home fire safety systems. In the near term, the lesson parents should take from these news broadcasts is that they won't know how their children will react to the smoke alarm until they've tested their response to it. Home fire drills are essential.

Once children have mastered the escape planning process, parents should hold a drill at night when children are sleeping, so they can assess their ability to awaken and respond appropriately. Please see NFPA's home escape and smoke alarm fact sheets at www.nfpa.org.

There is room for continued improvement in smoke alarm technology and sound research is needed to guide that improvement. But it would be a grave disservice to parents if the videotaped demonstrations were to undermine their overall confidence in this lifesaving technology.


James M. Shannon became president and chief executive officer of the National Fire Protection Association in June, 2002. He has served as NFPA senior vice president and general counsel overseeing all legal affairs of the association and also has administrative and real estate responsibility for NFPA's properties. Previously, he was elected Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.