CHILDREN sleep through high-pitched smoke alarms and a new speaking device could save young lives, it is claimed.

Research by Dundee University and Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service found the devices families currently rely on fail to rouse youngsters, particularly boys, and a lower-pitched alternative with a female voice has better results.

Tests found 70 per cent more sleeping children woke to a recorded message saying: “Wake up, the house is on fire.” Experts say the problem may be related to brain function in those aged 16 and under and the spoken message could trigger an evolutionary response.

Now the team is seeking 500 families to join a wider trial.

The project follows the fatal blaze which killed six of the Philpott family children in Derby. Parents Mick and Mairead Philpott were jailed with a family friend for starting the fire that claimed the lives of the children, aged between five and 13, in May 2012.

There were working alarms in the property but the siblings died in their sleep, overcome by smoke.

Dave Coss, a fire investigator and watch commander with Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service, is working with Professor Niamh Nic Daeid of the university’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) on the study. They have found that initial tests of the new device have pushed the wake rate up from 20 per cent to 90 per cent.

However, more work is needed and the team is now trying to recruit 500 families with young children to inform their research.

Nic Daeid said: “We know that smoke alarms are vital in making our homes and communities safe in the event of a fire. Our research has demonstrated, however, that the current smoke alarms used do not always wake children from sleep.

“The first stage of the project tested 34 children, both boys and girls, of varying ages, to see if they woke when a smoke alarm was activated. The tests were carried out in the family home and 80 per cent of the children, including all of the boys, slept through the alarm.

“Protecting our children in the event of fire is so fundamentally important that we want to involve parents and their children in expanding this research.

“Most work in the area has been carried out using relatively small numbers of children and usually in sleep laboratories. We want to make this much more relevant to the real world and undertake the tests in the familiar environment of the child’s home and so we are appealing for volunteers to help us.”

Interested parties must have children under 16 years of age and should contact the team via

Rodney Mountain, from the university’s School of Medicine, said: “Children’s hearing ability, brain function, sleep patterns and stage of brain development is very different to adults.

“Surgeons and neurologists do not believe that hearing ability plays a major part, but think that the answers probably relate to how children’s brains perceive, interpret and respond to sound while they are asleep.

“Beyond that, an interesting answer probably lies at the level of our human evolutionary response to potential danger. We are programmed to respond to human voices warning of danger, such as a mother’s voice shouting to warn a child.

“Children are not born pre-programmed for our modern world of danger warning sounds from digital beeps and sirens – they have to learn and interpret these sounds.”