Fire safety is a topic that plays a big role in my life because I am a mom of five kids and I live with anxiety and OCD that centers around their safety.
One of my biggest phobias is my fear of my house catching on fire in the middle of the night and not being able to get my kids out on time, and it can make getting a decent night’s sleep a bit of a challenge at times.
In order to help put my mind at ease, I installed smoke detectors all throughout my house. I have one in every room and we have 16 rooms in my home. That is a lot of smoke detectors, and if we are lucky enough to someday be saved by them during a house fire, we are all very aware that it will be at the expense of our hearing. However, I think its 100% worth it to have that extra bit of peace of mind when you go to sleep at night and it helps my anxiety a great deal to know that the detectors are there.
Knowing what you now know about my concern for fire safety, you can imagine my horror when I read in the news the other day that 80% of kids will sleep right through a smoke detector going off. Included in the article was a video of children sleeping right through a very loud smoke detector very close to their beds.
My heart and mind filled with dread as I thought “What? You mean I have been living with a false sense of security for the last ten years? We have been in a death trap this entire time?” (I’m a little on the dramatic side, I admit. I’m working on it.)
“No, this can not be true.”, I said to myself.
I thought about it and recalled how horribly loud and obnoxious my smoke detectors are and how close they are to my kids’ beds and I thought “No way. MY kids would wake up.”
Then I recalled the time that I locked myself out of the house in the middle of a January night and my kids, who had fallen asleep after having a slumber party on the living room floor, did not hear me banging on the door and ringing the door bell over and over again. I could see them through the window as I obnoxiously yelled and pounded on the door. They didn’t budge. Thank goodness one of them eventually woke up to the use the bathroom or my husband would have come home the next morning and found a frozen wife on the front porch.
I wasn’t sure what to think about this article I had just read, but I knew there was one way to find out. I waited until that evening around midnight and set off the smoke detector in the hall right outside their bedroom doors. It is VERY loud, very high-pitched and very obnoxious.
They all slept right through it.
It was the single most awful feeling I think I have felt since becoming a parent, watching them sleep their way through one of the few things that could save their life in a fire.
Even my husband, who is a fire chief, couldn’t believe it. (Yes I am married to a fire chief and my biggest fear is my kids dying in a fire…..even when he is home. I don’t know. I can’t explain it.) Even he did not know that such a high percentage of kids didn’t wake up when the smoke detectors went off. He was just as surprised as I was.
Interestingly enough, despite my kids sleeping right through those awful obnoxious smoke detectors blaring, as soon as I walked into my 10 year old daughter’s room and muttered “I don’t believe this.”, she woke right up.
Apparently, kids sleep very deeply and they have not yet “learned” to wake up to certain sounds…even very loud and alarming sounds.
My kids weren’t used to the sound of the alarm – it held no meaning to them – so they didn’t wake up.
My voice on the other hand apparently causes their little brains to leap to attention the minute they hear it, and even when they hear it while sleeping, they respond to it.
It was a really eye-opening experience for me and it made me so grateful thatthis study was done so that it could open the eyes of parents like me who put so much blind trust in these smoke detectors.
So what can be done so that I and other parents can sleep with a sense of trust again?
What I chose to do, thanks to the advice of a wise friend of mine, was have several fire drills to “train” my kids to wake up and respond to the sound of the smoke detectors. Every few days I would set off the alarms in the middle of the night, and wait a few seconds. If they didn’t wake up within those few seconds, I would yell out “Fire, fire! Wake up, wake up!” until everybody was out of bed and standing next to me in the hall, our designated spot.
The first couple times doing this was just miserable. Being such hard sleepers and being so out of it, the kids didn’t know what was going on despite having been warned I was going to do the drills ahead of time. But as time went on, the kids started getting better and better and getting up faster each time. Within 10 days they were waking up to the smoke detector without my voice telling them to wake up. Within a month, they were popping out of bed and all in the hall, in 7 seconds flat.
We still have some work to do on staying calm and learning what to do AFTER the smoke detectors go off, but at least I feel confident that if they DO go off, my kids will wake up, and to me – that is the first and most important step.
I encourage every parent or guardian with children under 18 who is reading this post to test your kids ability to wake up to the sound of the smoke detector.
If they pass the first test, that is great and I would try it one more time a few days later and at a different time of night just to be sure you can trust they will respond.
If your kids don’t wake up to the sound of the detector going off, I strongly encourage you to put them through the same kind of training situation that I put my children through. In addition, there are also special smoke detectors you can purchase that will record and then play your voice telling your children to wake up when smoke is detected, and you may want to consider purchasing one or two of those as well, especially if your children do not respond to the training as well as mine did.
Please spread the word about this smoke detector safety information to your friends with children in the home, and if you know any firemen please pass it along to them as well so they can research this subject and potentially include it in their training and fire safety education programs. If my husband, who is a fire chief in a fairly decent sized town, didn’t know about the dreadful statistics regarding kids waking up during smoke alarms, then chances are there are a LOT more firemen out there who don’t know as well. Passing this information along could save lives.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact your local fire department. They are always happy to provide support and help keep their communities safer.
Stay safe and be well.
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