WSAZ Investigates: Putting A Family to the Smoke Alarm Test

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Since October, six children have died in fires across the state of West Virginia.

Neither of the homes had working smoke alarms.

A study done this past summer at the University of Strathclyde's Center for Forensic Science, along with a local fire department, revealed that not all sleeping children hear smoke alarms when they do work.

Thirty-four children were tested, and 80 percent of them slept through the alarms. wanted to put smoke alarms to the test.

So during the weekend, the Armstrong family allowed our cameras into their home.

When it comes to fire safety, the Armstrongs probably do more than the average family.

"We've run through practices," mom Wendy said. "They have to know how to unlock the windows," she explained.

Wendy says once a month she checks batteries, she even will run through "what-would-you-do-scenarios" with her daughters Alena and Kendall who are eight and five-years-old, respectively.

Friday night, we set off one alarm for one minute and 40 seconds. No one woke up. It was agonizing for Wendy.

We tried again with two alarms -- same amount of time and still nothing.

On Saturday night, we came back armed with two alarms that have a voice that alerts people that a fire is happening inside their homes.

Wendy thought the voice might awaken the girls because it was similar to what they hear in the morning when she wakes them up for school.

We first tried one, and then two, with the same results as Friday. Dad Joe even took the double alarms inside the girls' rooms and had them right by their ears.


Just as he was about to try his luck with an alarm and a flashlight flickering in their faces, Alena woke up to use the bathroom.

She told her mom she heard the alarms but didn't get up because "it was too cold outside."

The conversation provided a nice moment for Wendy and her oldest daughter to talk about the importance of getting up and getting out of the house.

While each situation is different, two to three minutes is about all the time that is available to get out of the house safely during a fire.

Kanwaha County Fire coordinator C.W. Sigmund says the hope is that the adults in the home hear the alarm and are able to quickly wake the children. It is a good idea to make sure they are positioned by the room where adults sleep.

There are also alarms that shake the bed and some with lights, which are used for people with hearing problems.

An alarm that has a high success rate is one where parents can record a message that is played when smoke detected.

Those types of alarms must be purchased online. Based on research done by, they are not sold in local stores.

Regardless of whether or not a child hears a smoke alarm, every home should have them. They are proven to save lives.

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