Committee OKs changes to smoke alarm ordinances

Smoke detectors near kitchens might need “hush buttons” that can turn off the power manually for seven minutes at a time.

by Hank Long

A Minneapolis City Council committee approved a smoke-detector ordinance change Wednesday that will require any smoke alarm within 20 feet of a cooking appliance to have a silencing switch.

The ordinance change also states that smoke alarms and detectors should not be located closer than 3 feet from any kitchen or bathroom doorway.

The required silencing switch or “hush button” on the smoke detectors will prevent house occupants from disabling smoke detectors that are sensitive to cooking fumes or steam from showers, said Ricardo Cervantes, district supervisor for Minneapolis Housing Inspections.

Cervantes showed council members a detector with a silencing button that shuts off the device for seven minutes.

City Council member Dean Zimmerman, 6th Ward, who co-sponsored the change, said the ordinance modification surfaced after the Dinkytownhouse fire that killed three University students in September.

“The truth is, a hush alarm on those smoke detectors would have saved those lives,” Zimmerman said at the committee meeting.

Council member Paul Zerby, 2nd Ward, who represents the areas surrounding the Minneapolis campus and co-sponsored the change, said it is a common problem in the University area for renters to disconnect smoke detectors while they are cooking.

University Concerned Landlords Association President Jason Klohs said he agrees with the ordinance change because many landlords in the University area reconnect renters’ smoke detectors on a regular basis.

“One of our biggest worries is, ‘What if a renter pulled the batteries out and a fire happens?’ ” Klohs said.

The hush button on smoke detectors will be effective in encouraging students to keep smoke detectors working, he said.

Cervantes said smoke detectors with silencing buttons cost as little as $13 at local hardware stores.

The committee passed the ordinance change 5-0. It will go to next Friday’s City Council meeting.