It was 3:30am on April 5, 2015. The fire alarm in our hotel room was BLARING to the point I thought I might go temporarily deaf. We had just moved across the country with a our 2-year-old and 3-month-old and were only 2 days into this new life adventure.
Living on very little sleep and not even knowing quite where we were yet, my husband and I shot out of bed. I remember him hysterically waving clothes in front of one of those loud alarms with flashing lights. In his delirium, he woke up thinking we burnt popcorn or something and that waving his clothes around would fix it.
Once he was awake enough to realize what we happening, he peered out the window to see smoke billowing from down the hall. By this time, I had already put something more appropriately on and was working to gather the kids and the dog.
Even through the ear-peircing wail of the fire alarms, us talking and yelling, and all of the scurrying about neither one of our girls woke up.
They didn’t even stir.
And that image of my sweet children sleeping so soundly while the world around them was full of flashing lights, sounding sirens, and noise so loud it was numbing haunted me.
It’s been 3 years and it still terrifies me. They have woken up to fire alarms and smoke detectors before, but not always. And that “not always” is the part that makes me question how they’ll respond in moments that matter.
The science behind fire alarms and kids 🔥
Kids under the age of 14 have been known to sleep through fire alarms. Therefore, it’s not just young kids who are sleeping through these important alerts.
According to a July 2017 report from FEMA, between 2013 and 2015, 37% of kids ages 0-9 who died in a fire were sleeping (1). I have read statistics over the years (but can’t find the source) where 50% of all kids that didn’t make it out of a fire were sleeping.
Studies show three main findings when studying smoke detectors and sleeping kids:
- Boy are less likely to hear alarms while asleep
- Lower pitched smoke detectors are more likely to wake our kids than high-pitched beeps
- A woman’s voice is most effective at waking kids from sleep
We all sleep in cycles with periods of deeper sleep and periods of restlessness
That sweet and blissful in between period when waking up is my favorite. I am cognizant of the world around me, but I am not quite awake yet. But then those moments I am jolted out of bed right in the middle of a dream or in the deep sleep, REM cycle… those are the worst and I personally even as an adult have a hard time snapping out of it.
Our kids have the same experiences. So maybe when they’re in the deep sleep phase, they simply don’t hear alarms the same. They’re tuned out and blocked out, maybe even incorporated into a dream instead of their brains computing it as an alert.
Kids brains work relationally; we must teach them what alarms mean & how they sound
We all have to associate what we see and hear with what we know in order to take action.
Therefore if our kids hear an alarm, but aren’t taught exactly what it is or it has no context, they they will never respond accordingly. This means it’s imperative for us to teach our kids what the different alarms in our house mean.
Our fire alarm declares that there is a fire, but not all do. And even if yours says “Fire, fire, leave immediately,” it’s important to just makes sure it’s 100% clear what kids are expected to do. In fact, experts suggest having at least 2 evacuations routes planned.
I personally have even told Jenn that if for some reason she had no idea where I was (because maybe I passed out from smoke) but that she knew where her baby brother was, to try to get him out the door or if he was too heavy to run outside and scream for help.
These have been very hard conversations. But I would rather her know how to handle them than not have them because it’s “too scary”.
Get a voice programmable fire alarm or smoke detector
They can be hard to find, even on Amazon, but we found a few options on eBay that you’ll find here in our partner link: Kidsmart Vocal Smoke Detector
How to protect your kids during a house fire and how to prepare them if it happens
Practice fire drills when kids are awake
- Let kids hear what alarms sound like and what they mean
As previously discussed, it’s important that even when our kids are awake and aware that they understand what sounds should signal their immediate attention. Over time, they will learn to respond to them more quickly.
- Stop, drop, and roll
Don’t forget to teach kids that if they are on fire in any way to try to not panic, but to stop, drop, and roll in order to put the fire out.
- Never open a door with a fire on the other side
In fact, show them images of what a closed door looks like after a fire. So often times people can be saved from behind a closed door, but trying to open the door can not only lead to burns on the hands, but the oxygen gives the fire a bigger boost. They have a better chance of being rescued than making it through the flames.
- Have an emergency home cell phone
One of the main reasons we chose a cell phone rather than a traditional phone was because it could be grabbed and used on the way out of the house. Not only that, but for our littlest of kids, they can use the touch screen to open it and choose which picture on the home screen they need. (We have faces and 911 there so they can quickly choose to call). We get a $15 plan through Republic; use our partner link to see if you’re in the coverage area.
Because talking about house fires can cause big emotions, print out this sheet.
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Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 4 children living in Boston, MA and believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!