Following a fatal fire in Derby in 2012 where six children lost their lives, it was suggested that the children had not responded to the actuation of two hard wired, interlinked domestic smoke detectors which were fitted at both the base and head of the staircase in the property.  In order to address this, a set of tests were devised, in which 34 children aged between 2 and 13 years (20 girls and 14 boys) were each tested on 6 separate occasions in their own home using the domestic smoke detectors fitted within their property where the smoke detector was sounded for 1 minute.  A total of 204 tests were conducted. 

The results obtained revealed that none of the 14 boys tested woke up at any time to any of the actuations of the detectors. Only 7 of the 20 (35%) girls woke on hearing the alarm with only 2 (both 10 years old) waking up on all 6 test occasions. The children’s ability to wake did not appear to be affected by either the bedroom doors being open or closed or the proximity of the alarm to the bed.

A further set of tests were carried out using a low frequency (520 Hz) smoke detector, involving 6 boys and 6 girls.  Once again none of the boys woke up for any of the actuations however this time all of the girls woke irrespective of age, with only one failing to wake on all 6 tests.

The research suggests that children under the age of 13 are unlikely to wake up to the operation of a standard domestic smoke detector with boys being especially at risk. This issue is not addressed for young males when a low frequency detector is used and an apparent difference between the response of boys and girls to such devices was suggested.

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