MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The incessant beep of a smoke alarm is enough to drive someone crazy, but is the chirping sound enough to wake a child from deep sleep in an emergency?
A fire drill at the home of the Abercrombie family shows the sound of the alarm did little to wake the family’s two young daughters.
“My worst nightmare realized in front of me,” Amber Abercrombie said. “It was scary.”
The fire wasn’t real, but her concern is.
Both of her daughters, 10-year-old Cora and 8-year-old Claire, had been schooled in fire safety.
Just the week before, they’d decided on a meeting place at the backyard swingset in the event of a fire.
“Right up there. My mom says she likes it because she can see us,” Cora explained.
Cora and her sister are aware of the noise alarms make. In fact, they hate hearing it.
“Make it stop!” Claire shouted during one test-run.
But is being familiar with the sound enough to force sleepy kids out of bed in the middle of the night?
As part of the experiment, cameras were set up in the girls rooms to see just how long they’d sleep through an alarm. Mark Abercrombie and his wife Amber watched and waited as the alarm sounded.
Ten seconds in, Cora’s eyes popped open. But she stayed in bed, disoriented.
Later, you can tell she’s visibly agitated, but she does not get up.
“She was awake, and she just laid there,” Amber said.
Claire tossed and turned by stayed asleep.
“She’s like dead to the world. You’re at over two minutes,” Amber said while checking the clock.
At one point, Cora used a pillow to drown out the noise.
It wasn’t until two and a half minutes after the first beep that she got out of bed.
“I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know if I should wake up or not. It just got really annoying,” she said.
Claire, however, didn’t wake-up.
“I mean, the whole house could be engulfed at that point, and she’d still be sleeping away,” Amber said.
The concerned mother eventually had to wake up her younger daughter, more than six minutes in to the drill.
“That’s a long time. And you didn’t even hear it at all?” Amber asked. Claire said no. “Oh my goodness, that’s crazy.”
“It’s scary. A lot can happen within two minutes, three minutes, four minutes, six minutes,” Mark Abercrombie said.
One reason the noise might not faze kids, is because of how they sleep.
“Children stay in deep sleep much longer than adults,” said Tracy Mehan, a health educator at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Mehan is working with a team to find the best way to wake up young people when there’s a fire.
“You don’t assume that your child is going to wake up. You go get them,” she said.
It’s a lesson learned, even for firefighter Sean Stear.
“I’m going to go home and test my kids,” he said. “It could be life or death.”
“I thought that we were prepared. I thought we were doing everything right,” Amber Abercrombie said.
If the persistent beep of a smoke detector isn’t enough to get you or your kids up and out of bed in a hurry, there’s another option out there.
You might consider picking up a vocal smoke alarm that alternates between beeps and a pre-recorded voice.