Dateline   |  March 25, 2013

Smoke Detectors, Part 2

NBC News' Jeff Rossen reports on consumer smoke detectors, testing their effectiveness in various situations.

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

>>> i want's the golden rule of home safety. smoke detectors save lives. and they do. but as you've seen here tonight, some devices can take too long to sound the alarm in slow, smoky fires. now, another hidden dangerer. an eye opener for parents. imagine if your house is on fire and you can't reach your kids. if you're lucky, the alarm is going off, wailing. but can you count on it to wake everyone up? as we'll explain, kids sleep different than you and i do. and that difference could mean everything when precious seconds are slipping away.

>> you seem nervous.

>> i'm so nervous.

>> so dateline set up a test at this house outside hartford, connecticut. home to the holender 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 cameras in the kids' bedrooms. and then, we tell the boys what we're doing. a story about sleeping and smoke detectors .

>> boys, this is captain lynch.

>> we even have a local fire captain give them a safetiless sob. son.

>> what would you do?

>> i would get up and get in the ground and call.

>> but 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.

>> will they wake up when that alarm sounds?

>> i'm hoping they get up and, you know --

>> know what to do.

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

>> seconds go by. and then a minute.

>> not a single one of them is moving.

>> then two minutes. watch, the boys keep sleeping.

>> 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.

>> the boys have slept for close to 3 minutes. the captain says these children should have gotten up and down to safety by now. even the seasoned fire captain is shaken.

>> i expected them to wake up and maybe be a little disoriented, but i certainly didn't expect them to sleep through it.

>> did you hear that fire alarm going off?

>> no.

>> did you hear that fire alarm ?

>> no.

>> 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 sees this kind of thing all of the time.

>> it would astound you at how loud the sounds can get.

>> dr. smith is a researcher at ohio's nationwide children's hospital and has been studying smoke detectors and sleeping children for years.

>> how do children sleep differently than adults?

>> they sleep very differently than adults. first of all, they spend more time in sleep. and while they're in sleep, they spend time in the deepest parts of sleep. and those are the parts that are the hardest to wake them up from.

>> so what does wake them up? dr. smith invited "dateline" into his sleep lab as he tested different kids 12 and under to see what would work hooking them up to sleep monitors. as we and their parents watch their responses live. first, the traditional alarm that most of us. within seconds, two of us wake up and get to the door. great. but dr. smith says the other four take too long or don't wake up at all.

>> as a mom, what is it like to watch this?

>> it's scary. she's wasting valuable time sleeping.

>> but here's something dr. smith says may work better. the sound of a parent's voice. to show us, his team had those same moms record a personal alarm .

>> erin, erin, wake up!

>> would that alarm wake the kids up? the team sent the children back to bed and waited until they were back in a deep sleep . and then, set off the new alarm in each room.

>> theresa, theresa, wake up! get out of bed.

>> while two of the children didn't stir at all, the other four did, waking up almost immediately. all of them getting out of bed in just seconds.

>> wow, look at her jumping up.

>> yeah, that was a big change.

>> the researchers don't know what it is about a parent's voice that seems to work better at waking children.

>> we're currently doing the studies now to try to figure out was it the child's first name? was it the mother's voice? was it some other component?

>> right now, personalized voice alarms aren't mainstream. they're sold online in small numbers. manufacturers do sell detectors with a generic computerized voice like this.

>> fire. fire.

>> until more research is done, everyone agrees, hang onto your traditional alarms and have an escape plan. dr. smith says you should have an alarm inside every bedroom and make sure each adult in the house has a designated child to wake up in a real fire.

>> that requires preparation, planning and practice.

>> and that's exactly what the holenders are doing after watching their kids sleep through what could have been a real emergency. now, creating a new escape plan for the whole family.

>> so, from now on, if you hear that smoke alarm going off --

>> i'm running. there's no other choice.

>> to wake them up?

>> yes, to wake them up. they're not waking up without me.

>> coming up, you think your online life is private. think again.

>> what?

>> it's all out there. and so easy to find.

>> in 15 minutes , we got everything.

>> this freaks me out.

>> and, later, they're in toys, canned food , hand soap, even tooth paste. chemicals in products we use every day.

>> all the ppa is soaking in.

>> it's soaking in and oozing in.

>> dateline agrees to test her own body for certain chemicals when "dateline" continues. do you