The widespread installation of Domestic smoke alarms in UK homes is credited by many fire safety professionals with the significant fall in serious home fires and consequent fatalities over recent years. Smoke alarms give early warning of fire allowing either prompt fire suppression action by the householder or safe evacuation – that is provided the dwelling is occupied when the fire starts.
A recent research project conducted by a Fire Investigation Officer with the Derbyshire fire service as part of his Master of Science dissertation sought to test the effectiveness of smoke alarms on young children. The methodology was to set the alarms off deliberately whilst the children were sleeping to see if they were woken. One might be forgiven for questioning the basic premise as surely it is more important that the parents are woken so that they can manage the situation and usher their children to safety.
This apart the findings were interesting in that 80% of the kids slept through the alarm and all those that were roused were girls. Each child was subject to 6 tests and only two out of the 34 tested woke each time the alarm was activated. Clearly once asleep our young ones, particularly the boys, switch off to ambient noise to concentrate on their dream time. Most parents are thankful for that.
Even so the findings do add fuel to the growing number arguing for a more proactive form of fire protection within the home i.e. Domestic Automatic Sprinkler systems. The Derbyshire fire service is one of many regional fire services campaigning for legislation to compel the installation of domestic sprinkler systems and pointed to these results as further confirmation of their view.
This debate will run and run but it would be interesting to get the views of home occupiers and fire sprinkler professionals on the comparative merits of smoke alarms versus sprinklers in a domestic setting. Comparing real issues regarding installation costs, cost/risk analysis, system maintenance and user technical awareness are good starting points for a rational unbiased debate.
In the interim, Smoke Alarms are an economical and effective fire safeguard in the home provided they are fitted in the right places and in the right numbers to ensure the responsible adult is alerted.