Sleeping Like a Baby: Nighttime fire drills critical for heavy sleepers and children


Is someone in your family a heavy sleeper? Whether it’s a child or an adult, people who are heavy sleepers need extra measures if there is a fire in your home. Heavy sleepers may not wake up when a smoke alarm sounds or their judgment may be impaired when they do wake up.

Current research suggests that children may have different sleep patterns than adults which may prevent them from hearing and reacting appropriately to alarms. It appears that children, especially those younger than 15 years, have a deep-sleep phase in the first few hours after they fall asleep, which may prevent them from hearing and reacting appropriately to smoke alarms.

“Children’s sleep patterns do not mean that smoke alarms are useless,” warns Acting Fire Commissioner Spence Sample. “It means that, in addition to having smoke alarms, we must have excellent fire escape plans which take that into account.”

Smoke alarms save lives by providing an early warning of smoke and fire danger. However, you won’t know how your children or household members will react to the sound of a smoke alarm until you’ve tested their response. When you have only moments to get out safely, a fire is not the time to discover these obstacles.

Sample suggests all families practice a home fire drill at least twice a year, including during the night, so you can identify these issues and plan for them in your fire escape plan.

For children and other family members who sleep through alarms, appoint an adult or babysitter to be responsible for them in advance. Practice escape drills so your children know how the alarm sounds and what it means. By practicing your escape plan, you will find out if any obstacles exist to your family escaping safely and you will have the opportunity to come up with a plan to deal with those problems.

Children are not the only ones at risk of sleeping through an alarm. The elderly, people who are sleep-deprived such as students, shift workers, teenagers, the hearing impaired and anyone taking sedating medication or alcohol or drugs may be affected. Routine home fire drills will help you determine who may not hear the smoke alarm.

It is frightening to realize your child or a household member may sleep through a smoke alarm. However, by planning and practicing a fire escape plan at night, you can identify potential problems and solve them.

To find out how to practice a fire drill at home, please visit:

For more information on fire safety in Alberta, contact your municipality’s fire or emergency service or the Office of the Fire Commissioner at 1-800-421-6929, email or visit and click on the Public Education tab.