It's hard to imagine anyone being able to sleep through the piercing sound of a fire alarm, but according to researchers at Dundee University that's exactly the case for 80 per cent of children.
After the tragic death of six children in a house fire set deliberately by their parents in 2012, firefighter Dave Coss and Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service teamed up with Dundee University to investigate the reaction of children to fire alarms while they are sleeping.
For a preliminary study Coss and the researchers tested 34 children aged between two and 13 six times. Only seven of the children, all girls, were woken by the alarms at least once.
"Boys are especially hard to wake," said Dundee University professor Niamh Nic Daeid. "We think they will respond to a human voice."
The BBC reports smoke alarms have a sound frequency of 3,000Hz. Professor Daeid's prototype is much lower at 520Hz. The new alarm also speaks the people in the house saying: "Wake up, the house is on fire” in a woman's voice.
"Children are not born pre-programmed for our modern world of danger warning sounds from digital beeps and sirens — they have to learn, recognize and interpret these sounds," said Rodney Mountain, another researcher at Dundee.
A single trial, completed by relatives of Coss, found the lower-pitched alarm to be more effective in waking young boys.
Now Daeid and Coss are looking for 500 families with children under the age of 16 in the U.K. to test their prototype.
The study's findings shouldn't be seen as an excuse to do away with existing alarms as researchers point out they still have a long standing track record of saving lives. Instead, experts recommend families make a fire escape plan in advance, which involves waking their children up during a real-life blaze.