Friday, April 18, 2014

Will Passage of Prop 364 Give Monopoly To Smoke Detector Company?

Philosophically, how do you feel about a law being enacted that was written by a lobbyist in such a way as to award his client a virtual monopoly on their product?  Well, such a law may come to pass if Prop 364, 2013, is enacted by the Indianapolis-Marion County, City-County Council.

Wednesday night the Public Safety Committee will consider adding a few lines to our Ordinance regarding smoke detectors.  This is the second go-round for the Committee on this proposal; it having been sent back to committee at the urging of Committee Chair, Mary Moriarty Adams due to "new concerns [having] been raised by her colleagues". 

Prop 364 was written by Scott Chin, partner in Faegre Baker Daniels, LLP, and registered lobbyist for United Technologies, Corp., parent company to Kidde.  Kidde designs and sells smoke detectors, among other things.  Kidde has thrown some high power at Prop 364.  In addition to Chin, other FBD Partners J. Murray Clark, Frederick (Chip) Garver, Mindy Westrick Brown, and Joseph Smith all registered to lobby the City for United Technologies in 2013 and 2014.  Only Smith registered to lobby for other clients.

The proposal would add the following language to Indianapolis' Ordinances:
If the smoke detector is solely powered by a battery, such battery shall be a non-removable, non-replaceable battery capable of powering the smoke detector for a minimum of 10 years. Smoke detectors and fire alarm devices that are connected to a panel as part of a monitored fire alarm system, or other devices that use a low-power radio frequency wireless communication signal are exempt from the battery requirements of this section.  (emphasis mine)
Kidde was granted US Patent 7,525,445 in 2009, and it would be valid until 2023.  It claims, in part, a battery that by design of the smoke detector, is not removable and not replaceable.

If the Council changed the language to "tamper resistant", other smoke detector manufacturers' products would fit the proposed ordinance.  If it dropped the extended battery life to 6 years, even more would qualify.

In an email to members of the Public Safety Committee, one apartment owner claims that a lawyer for local law firm called and said the manufacturer would provide free smoke detectors to any apartment company that supports Prop 364 and helps get it passed.

Kidde has given IFD free smoke detectors - a practice one hopes is not connected to passage of this ordinance.

Scanning a FEMA report on smoke detector laws in various states, one sees a number of fire safety laws that have been enacted in a goodly number of jurisdictions.

Is hard wiring, especially in new construction, being proposed here?  Nope.

Is the use of photovoltaic smoke detectors being proposed here?  Nope.  (By the way, you might want to watch this NBC News report before you purchase your next one.)

Is there a requirement for a 'hush' button, especially if the detector is installed in a kitchen?  Nope.

All there is in Prop 364 is what the lobbyist put there.

Beyond all this, there are other problems with Prop 364.  For instance, there is no easing into the implementation of this Ordinance. 

On July 1, 2014, precisely, the new law would take effect. 

You would have to replace all of your smoke detectors by then or be in violation.  Given that the cost of these extended life devices is greater than the basic one-year battery type, this can be hundreds of dollars. 

Apartment owners could have significant bills for new smoke detectors - an unplanned for 2014 expense that could be harmful to their business.

Not to mention there is no time for retailers to get the non-compliant brands off their shelves via sales.

The entire concept of an extended life battery is also open to debate.  Just go to your favorite online retailer and scan the reviews.  Certainly, paying more for a smoke detector with a claimed battery life of 10 years and getting only 2 months out of it would motivate you to write a negative review.  Still, there is no study that I could find that compares the claims with real world testing.

I have no objection to trying to improve our fire safety laws.  But, I would prefer changes that begin with those that would make the biggest difference first - like requiring hardwiring, photovoltaic and hush buttons.  Any of these are more important than requiring non-removable, non-replaceable, 10 year battery operated devices (made exclusively by Kidde).

[parts of this blog entry were published earlier today at Indiana ForeFront]

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