Smoke Detectors

An imaginary discussion during a Congressional hearing on home smoke detector standards at some point in the distant past.

Chairperson: I would like to begin by welcoming our distinguished guests for our panel on home smoke detector standards. Today we would like to nail down the requirements for home use smoke detectors. I would like to start with the representative for the electrician’s union, please.

Union representative in a dark suit: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As you know, the electrician’s union is highly concerned with the safety of these devices. We believe they should be required to be wired into the home electrical system, so they are not reliant on batteries for normal operation. We also believe the beeping sound emitted by these devices should be high and loud, so it can penetrate to every possible corner of the house. The detector, itself, should give no visual indication of any problems with the individual device.

Chairperson: These sound like reasonable requirements overall, but why should these detectors have no visual indicators when they fail?

Union representative in a dark suit: If the homeowner cannot determine which particular device is failed, they will be forced to call an electrician to repair the entire system, which increases the overall safety of these devices. We want to avoid do-it-yourself installations and maintenance where possible with something as critical as a smoke detection system.

Chairperson: Okay, I understand; you want to ensure that only qualified electricians are called when there is a problem with an individual smoke detector in the home…

Union representative in a dark suit: …and ensure the electrician stays on site for as long as possible, to ensure the complete safety of the family.

Chairperson: Thank you. Next, we will turn to the representative of a battery manufacturer for their input.

Battery representative in a dark suit: Thank you, Congressman. I was glad, by the way, to see you at dinner the other night.

Chairperson: Yes, it was nice to see you, too, Ed. We always want to bring as much revenue into our district as possible, of course.

Battery representative in a dark suit: Yes, of course. Now, about these home use smoke detectors. Although they will need to be wired into the home wiring system, we believe they should contain a battery backup, in case the power fails during or before the fire.

Chairperson: This makes sense. Do you have any suggestions on the type of battery we should use?

Battery representative in a dark suit: I believe we should only allow the latest technology in these devices, 9v pattern batteries.

Chairperson: Similar to the ones made in the factory out by where we met for dinner?

Battery representative in a dark suit: Yes, the very ones. As you said, bringing business to our district is of crucial importance to the national economy. And these batteries are simply the best on the market at this moment.

Chairperson: What if there are advances in battery technology over the next several years? What about rechargeable systems that draw power from the line voltage?

Battery representative in a dark suit: There are no further advancements in battery technology expected over the next one hundred years, so we are safe in specifying a 9v battery after this pattern. Recharging systems are much too large to fit into the current format of a smoke detector, so we may safely rule rechargeable systems out of the specification.

Chairperson: We should disallow rechargeable batteries in home use smoke detectors?

Battery representative in a dark suit: Yes. Rechargeable systems are currently unstable, and should be disallowed from use in these systems. In fact, homeowners should be required to replace all the batteries in these devices every year.

Chairperson: Thank you. Now, we turn to Ms. Jenna Longlegs, who played a female firefighter in a recent movie.

Ms. Jenna Longlegs: Thank you chairperson. I would just like to say how grateful I am that you take the time to listen to ordinary people and the firemen of the world.

Chairperson: Thank you, Ms. Longlegs. Now, what would you like to see in the new standards for home use smoke detectors?

Ms. Jenna Longlegs: I believe everything the previous speakers have said should be included. Beyond these requirements, we should make certain such devices are easily visible for firefighters who are in the home, and should be inspected by local unionized firefighters on a regular basis.

Chairperson: Why the visibility requirement?

Ms. Jenna Longlegs: Because when you are filming a fire scene, it’s very important for the audience to have visual contact with the smoke alarms, to set the scene, and provide the story line.

Chairperson: Wouldn’t you prefer they be looking at you, Ms. Longlegs, rather than a device on the ceiling? I know I would…

Ms. Jenna Longlegs: Only during the cutaway shots.

And this is how we came to have ugly smoke detectors that only accept 9 volt batteries which must be replaced once a year, cannot recharge themselves, have loud beeps that cannot be used to identify the individual detector that has a low battery, and provide no visual indication of their battery state.

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