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Council advances smoke-detector requirement

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Indianapolis homeowners and landlords would have to buy smoke detectors with non-removable, non-replaceable batteries under a proposal that’s advancing through the City-County Council with bipartisan support.

The Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee voted 9-1 in favor of the proposal Wednesday night. The ordinance would apply to houses and townhouses, but it won’t apply to apartment buildings unless the Indiana Fire and Building Commission approves the change. (The change to the battery requirements doesn’t apply to hard-wired smoke alarms.)

A smoke detector manufacturer, Kidde, lobbied heavily for the ordinance, but the company's attorney, Faegre Baker Daniels partner Murray Clark, told the committee that the changes wouldn’t give his client a competitive advantage.

Clark noted that competitor First Alert had sent a letter to the council in support of the proposal, which he said was “kind of like Pepsi supporting something Coke is doing.”

A number of manufacturers offer detectors with tamper-proof batteries that they claim will last 10 years. The new battery technology is more expensive, but supporters said it’s worthwhile because it might prevent people from disabling smoke detectors because of false alarms or low-battery chirps.

Indianapolis has seen 29 fire fatalities since 2009, and in 17 of those incidents, the smoke detector wasn’t working, committee Chairwoman Mary Moriarty Adams said. In the remaining 12, there was no smoke detector present.

A long-serving Democrat, Adams authored the city’s current ordinance requiring smoke detectors in all dwellings. She and Republican Councilor Ben Hunter co-sponsored the proposal on new battery technology.

“Generally, I am a get-out-of-my-way, I-can-live-life-better-than-government-can-tell-me-to-live-life kind of guy,” Republican Councilor Aaron Freeman said. “If we save one life, it’s worth it. If we don’t put one fireman in danger, it’s worth it.”

Freeman noted that the proposal had been amended so that building owners won’t be responsible for installing the new battery technology until smoke detectors need to be replaced.

The sole "no" vote on the proposal was by Republican Christine Scales, who raised a litany of objections, from the proposal’s drafting by a manufacturer’s lobbyist to the lack of language on sensor technology.  

Scales said she’s worried that the ordinance will prompt people to install long-lasting detectors with the wrong type of sensor. Ionization sensors have proven ineffective at detecting smoldering, smoky fires, which are also the leading cause of fire-related death.

Scales pushed for language that would require dwellings to have at least one detector with a photoelectric sensor, which detects smoldering fires more quickly. Various fire-safety authorities recommend using both types of technology to detect both fast-flaming kitchen fires and smoldering fires, which often start in bedrooms or elsewhere in a home.

Adams said adding a requirement for photoelectric sensors isn’t practical because the technology changes quickly, and then the ordinance would have to be revised every few years. Under the current proposal, homeowners are free to buy the right mix of smoke detectors for their homes, she said.

The Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors opposes the proposal because it could lead to two different standards for single-family residences and apartment buildings, Government Affairs Director Chris Pryor said.

Pryor doesn’t think the state building commission will approve the city’s ordinance because a similar proposal was introduced to the Legislature in 2012 and went nowhere.

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  • Hmmmm
    I wonder if the person who invented the $75 smoke detector that lasts 10 years is the same person who invented the $30.00 lightbulb that lasts ten years.
  • Scales is Right, Adams is Wrong
    Indy's council let the public down. Kidde swooped in a pushed their economic interests and council caved. Scales did her homework when she stated the best change would be to require photoelectric technology because ionization alarms fail too often in smokey fires. They are the alarm in wrongful death lawsuits. Adams does't know what she is talking about. Smoke alarm technology has been the same for 50 years. The only change is that people are realizing ionization alarms are cheap alarms that have serious flaws. Hats off to Scales. Adams way to allow big business in to promote their economic interest. Indy deserves better.
  • "Save One Life It's Worth It"
    Councilor Freeman's statement that the ordinance is worth it if it saves just one life is utterly ridiculous. We'd save lives if we made the speed limit 10 mph. Do we do it? No, because it's not worth it on balance. We make judgment all the time weighing safety v. costs. It's idiotic for Freeman to say the standard should be if it saves one life then do it.
  • Gutless City Council
    is 'Indianapolis Realtor' Blind, or just stupid in his/her assessment that this ordinance does not hurt anyone's business? The whole point of those arguing against the ordinance is that it was written by business, FOR business, as evidenced by sparing apartment businesses the cost, thus undervaluing and leaving at risk the lives of apartment dwellers. Shame on each member of this gutless city council with the exception of Councilor Scales.
  • While we're passing Laws
    While we are passing laws---How about one that reads: Anyone who is behind in paying their taxes can't hold any elected office or be a government employee---now that a law I can live with!!
  • A Hammer Disables Anything
    I can disable one of these smoke detectors in less than 5 seconds with a claw-hammer and a kitchen chair (to stand on.) Unless these magic devices with "untamperable" batteries also include a "Silence for 10 minutes" button while cooking, that's exactly what will happen to these devices. People who take batteries out of smoke detectors do it because they're being annoyed--I can't believe these people haven't thought of a "10 minutes of silence" function. #1 reason for removing batteries is a false-alarm while cooking--address the root of the problem, not your customers' responses. Of course, adding that function also wouldn't let them charge $75 for a smoke detector, either. The "old" technology that runs on a 9V battery only costs about $8. So it isn't so much that Kidde is asking for a "competitive advantage" over competitors, more than it is looking for the government to impose a requirement on the public that will drastically boost their (and their competitors) profit margins through the roof.
  • Big Brother
    The Councillor continued, "After we get this new expense rammed through, we will begin working on which paper towels, detergent, and toothpaste our citizens will be allowed to use." (/s off)
  • more regulation
    here's a novel idea, how about some accountability amongst ourselves. Anyone too stupid, lazy, or forgetful to change batteries,...well you better accept the consequences. what now, taxpayers covering an inspectors salary to check smoke alarms? how much time and money is spent in today's world on lawyers and bureaucracy and 'big brother oversight'? is personal responsibility for our own actions and decisions even taken into account anymore? we're breeding a nation of helpless dependent citizens. how sad
  • Nanny state strikes again
    The council needs to look busy so they butt into our lives again. Would I have smoke detectors if they were not required by law? Yes, as it is my responsibility to protect my family. Should it be a law? No. None of the government's business. Too difficult and impractical to enforce.
  • so...
    A proposal written by big business(Kidde), excluding big business(apartments), and run by big brother. standard operating procedure these days I guess. I guess the people lives in the apartments aren't worth as much as others? this is all about making money. if you want to save lives I think we can find a better way to save 17 lives in 4 years. can't wait for the programs that subsidize the people who "can't afford" it.
  • Kent
    Maybe you only need to replace them to sell the house - which seems reasonable.
  • clear as smoke...?
    This article is not very clear! Will we have to immediately replace our private residence detectors with this new long life no replaceable battery type, or can we continue with the ones we have now? I do replace my batteries twice a year, so if passed, do I now have to buy a complete new set of detectors? That will be interesting to enforce?
    • Where does it end??
      How will this be enforced? Will the city inspectors visit each home to confirm compliance? That sounds expensive for city that faces an annual budget deficit. What are the penalties for non-compliance? A fine? Does it rise to the level of a misdemeanor? Will the City Prosecutor or the County Prosecutor handle the case load? Or will there only be charges/fines if it is determined that the lack of one of these 10-year devices led to a fire-related death? Wow...this is a can of worms. I'm all for saving lives, but this is short-sighted unless there is more to the story.
    • Great Idea
      My former tenant removed the batteries from both smoke detectors. I am sure they were smoking something. Now they have to remove the entire smoke detector - which they probably will....
    • common sense
      This is a common sense proposal similar to Beech Groves requirement. Not all Realtors agree with Mr. Pryor. This is common sense, inexpensive, and does not hurt anyone's business.

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