Winner 2002

Sounding the Alarm


Working closely with Milwaukee’s North Shore Fire Department, WISN Reporters Tammy Elliott and Kent Wainscott made a startling discovery: Many young children simply will not be wakened by the sound of shrieking smoke detectors, even in their own bedrooms. Going into the rooms of sleeping children with cameras at night, taping as fire fighters used foggers to simulate smoke-filled rooms and set off the alarms, the WISN reporters recorded the behaviors of children from every angle. The reporters and the parents were astounded as children slept through the loudest alarms, and sometimes wakened only to fall back asleep. These parents now realize that their family fire escape plans should assign an adult to reach the children who might sleep through an alarm. While it may come as no surprise that children and teens sleep much more soundly than adults, what is truly surprising is that WISN found no evidence that smoke detector manufacturers ever tested their alarms with children. This investigation prompted initiation of a two-year study of the awakening abilities of smoke alarms and Underwriters Laboratories is now reconsidering safety standards of the appliances. In this report Executive Producer Susan MacDonald, Reporters Elliott and Wainscott, and Photographers Cary Edwards and John Lazarevic have performed a truly valuable public service. For alerting families, firefighters, and equipment manufacturers to the need for more effective warning devices, a Peabody Award is presented to Sounding the Alarm.