TODAY   |  March 22, 2013

Rossen Reports: Kids sleeping through smoke alarms

In the event of a fire, you rely on your smoke detectors to wake up your whole family. NBC’s Jeff Rossen conducts a test and makes a frightening discovery: Children can sleep right through the piercing alarms.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> 7:43 with this morning's report. you rely on fire and spoke detectors to wake up your family. jeff rossen is here with no pun intended an alarming report.

>> it's eye opening and surprised us. it's hard to imagine anyone sleeping through that loud, high-pitched wail of a smoke alarm but as we all know we're parents, kids can sleep through anything. are the loud beeps enough to wake them up in a fire? this morning we're putting smoke alarms and kids to the test and what we found will take every parents' breath away. it's a terrifying thought, your house is on fire, and you can't reach your kid. the smoke alarm is going off, wailing, but believe it or not, experts say in many cases, young children will sleep right through it. could that be true? we set up a test at this house in the connecticut suburbs, home to the hollander family, parents michelle and josh, and their three boys, 9-year-old duncan, 8-year-old hudson and 4-year-old sawyer. first we installed infrared cameras in the kids' bedrooms, then we tell the boys what we're doing, a story about sleeping and smoke detectors .

>> boys, this is captain lynch.

>> reporter: we even have a local fire captain give them a safety lesson.

>> what would you do if you heard that sound in the middle of the night ?

>> i would get up, get on the ground and crawl.

>> reporter: here's what we don't tell the kids, that days later, we're coming back, in the middle of the night , as they sleep, working with their parents to see how they'd react in a real fire.

>> good night.

>> reporter: will they wake up when that alarm sounds?

>> i'm hoping they get up.

>> reporter: know what to do.

>> know what to do.

>> reporter: we're watching them on a monitor downstairs. the hollander boys are fast asleep, and our fire captain sounds the alarm.

>> there it goes.

>> reporter: seconds go by, then a minute. not a single one of them is moving. then two minutes. watch, the boys keep sleeping. experts say in a real emergency, their chances of survival would be slipping away .

>> this could be a real fire right now.

>> and they would sleep right through it. it's so scary that the kids could sleep through this.

>> reporter: the boys have slept for close to three minutes. the captain says these children should have gotten up and out to safety by now. did you hear that fire alarm going off? you didn't hear it at all?

>> no.

>> reporter: did you hear that fire alarm ?

>> no.

>> reporter: didn't hear it at all? it was beeping so loud right outside your room. our results are disturbing, but dr. gary smith says he see this is kind of thing all the time.

>> it would astound you at how loud the sounds can get, and the children continue to sleep through them.

>> reporter: dr. smith is a researcher at ohio's nationwide children's hospital, and has been studying smoke detectors and sleeping children for years. why do kids sleep through these alarms?

>> they are simply not small adults. they're different biologically.

>> reporter: that means they sleep differently.

>> children spend more time in deep sleep than adults do and that's why it's harder for them to awaken in the case of an emergency.

>> come on girls, get up.

>> reporter: that's why he says families need to map out an escape plan in advance. make sure each adult has a designated child to wake up in a real fire.

>> hurry up.

>> reporter: that's exactly what the hollanders are doing, after watching their kids sleep right through it. so from now on if you hear that smoke alarm going off?

>> i'm running, there's other choice.

>> reporter: to wake them up.

>> because they're not waking up without me.

>> now researchers are taking it to another level trying to figure out what will wake kids up in a fire. they're experimenting with a new alarm prototype, it actually allows parents to record their own voices as the alarm, telling their kids to wake up. the question is, does it work better than the beeping we're all used to and matt on a special edition of "dateline" on sunday we'll take you inside of a children' sleep lab where they're testing it.

>> that would be a great idea if you get to yell to your kids if it works when might those be available.

>> it will be about a year before the research is even complete and then they have to try to get it to the market but this could change the entire face of fire safety .

>> jeff rossen , important information. appreciate it.