Will you wake up if there is a fire?

Do you need smoke alarms in your home? Or, can you rely upon your own senses to alert you to the dangers of a fire? It is a good question and not one with an easy answer...

There has been some research into this, but not as much as you might expect. One issue researchers have to contend with as far as fires go is that they are not able to test with ‘real’ smoke, as it is a poisonous cocktail that kills people! So they can only use a simulated smoke smell.

Research carried out on behalf of the Irondale Fire and Rescue Service in 1997 found that of the ten subjects tested only two of them woke up. Research by Brown University in 2004 concluded, “While sound can disrupt sleep, scents cannot. People cannot rely on their sense of smell to awaken them to the danger of fire...” Rachel Herz, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University, believes strongly that people do not have a sense of smell whilst sleeping. “You cannot smell while you are asleep,” she says. “You don't smell the coffee and wake up; rather you wake up and then smell the coffee.”

Why is this important?

The chances are that if a fire starts in your home, the smoke from the fire will reach family member’s bedrooms much sooner than the actual flames and if you are sleeping the chances are you will not wake up. Smoke can contain, in various proportions; carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen sulphide, ammonia, hydrogen chloride and others.

These chemicals interfere with the supply of oxygen to the body, cause disorientation, swelling of the delicate lining of the airways and can numb your senses resulting in a deeper sleep rather than waking up. And of course death!

What to do?

Having established that you are unlikely to be woken up by the smell of smoke, make sure you have working and regularly tested fire alarms located in the right places in your home. If they are not mains powered, change the batteries every year as a matter of course. Fire alarms do not last forever and, as they are fairly cheap to buy these days, change them for new ones if they are over ten years old.

Have a plan for the whole family, so everyone knows what to do if they hear a smoke alarm sounding. Worried about your children thinking you are a boring old so and so? Who cares? You may just save their lives one day!

If there is a fire, get out of the house as soon as possible and stay out.

If you have questions about fire risk assessment, or for help on any aspect of fire safety, call us on 01524 784356 today.

Commercial buildings, non-domestic and multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales are already forced to undertake a 'suitable and sufficient' fire risk assessment carried out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. While the overwhelming majority of premises do this, if the assessment is thought to have been carried out to an insufficient extent, the Responsible Person can face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.


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