Michigan Governor signs law requiring smoke detectors

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

LANSING, Mich. - A new set of laws requiring all pre-1974 housing units in Michigan to install smoke alarms moved through the Legislature and went into effect in early May with no opposition or input from installation and monitoring companies.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed the Flagstar Fire Safety Package, as the related four laws are called, setting a one-year deadline for the owners of all houses and apartment buildings to install alarms or face fines and imprisonment.

The five-year effort to bring the laws into effect was begun by Gary Burkart, a senior vice president at Flagstar Bank. Flagstar has given away 17,000 First Alert smoke detectors in three Michigan municipalities since 1999 as part of its Safety First program.

Burkart said a fire in Pontiac that claimed the lives of four children in one household moved him to seek a political solution to the lack of fire alarms. The fire department had responded to the fire call in 58 seconds, Burkart said, yet firefighters were still too late to save the children.

“We realized there was no law requiring smoke alarms” in older buildings, Burkart said. “We couldn’t give everybody a smoke alarm or we’d be out of business.”

Burkart approached Sen. Shirley Johnson, R-Royal Oak, who found it “startling and somewhat frightening” that in 77 percent of Michigan’s residential fire fatalities, fire alarms were not installed or were not operational, said Evelyn Zois, legislative assistant to the senator. Johnson helped push the bill through the Legislature.

“We really found no opposition politically,” Zois said. “Everyone pretty much jumped on board.”

The deaths of children in fires highlighted the problem. “We got a lot of support from community leaders who had heard about the fires,” Zois said.

The process of bringing the laws to the governor for her signature took about three years.

Lawmakers did not draw representatives of the alarm industry into the legislative process, Burkart said. Much of the housing the laws target are inner city apartment buildings, which he expects will comply with battery-operated units.

Burkart said he wants to take the issue to Washington to push for passage of a similar law covering the entire nation.