Fire caused by "bug collector" detected by smart smoke detector

tom baker

First Chief Moderator
Staff member
In this news article, a children's bug collector concentrated the suns rays, started a fire, the owner was alerted by his smart smoke detectors.

https://www.kitsapdailynews.com/news/smart-smoke-detector-alerts-family-to-kingston-fire/

Note: Is a smart smoke detector a replacement for a monitored fire alarm? Smoke detectors are intended to alert the owner of a fire, a monitored fire alarm is typically an alarm panel with phone or other monitoring...

Kingston, WA is west of Seattle on the Kitsap Penninsula
 

hbiss

EC, Westchester, New York NEC: 2014
Location
Hawthorne, New York NEC: 2014
Occupation
EC
In this news article, a children's bug collector concentrated the suns rays, started a fire, the owner was alerted by his smart smoke detectors.

Note: Is a smart smoke detector a replacement for a monitored fire alarm? Smoke detectors are intended to alert the owner of a fire, a monitored fire alarm is typically an alarm panel with phone or other monitoring...
First off, I HATE using the word "smart" to describe any kind of consumer technology, most notably phones and houses. :rant:

So this guy thinks that having his smoke detectors text his phone is a substitute for having them monitored by a service that would have immediately notified the fire department?

All kinds of "what ifs" come to mind as to why that's NOT a smart idea.

ETA: This will go down as another fire that could have been prevented by an AFCI. :sick:

-Hal
 

Jon456

Senior Member
Location
Colorado
First off, I HATE using the word "smart" to describe any kind of consumer technology, most notably phones and houses. :rant:

So this guy thinks that having his smoke detectors text his phone is a substitute for having them monitored by a service that would have immediately notified the fire department?

All kinds of "what ifs" come to mind as to why that's NOT a smart idea.
How many homeowners in America do you suppose pay to install and subscribe to monthly active alarm monitoring? About 5% perhaps? That's probably a over-estimation.

Considering that standard "dumb" smoke detectors do nothing more than wake/alert people inside their homes that something is amiss (typically, nothing more than some overzealous cooking), the introduction of smart devices such as smoke detectors, water leak detectors, video monitoring, etc., all of which can send remote alerts to smartphones, are HUGE improvements over the norm.

Although the OP's news article is not specific as to how the fire dept was initially notified, it's certainly possible that the home owners called the fire in after getting the alert notification on their phone. If so, that alert saved their house and all their belongings. That sounds like a very SMART idea to me.

When I was a young adult, I was visiting my family home for Christmas one year. One evening, we noticed a glow outside the living room window. We went out on the back deck and saw that our neighbor's home, that was below us on the hill, was on fire. We immediately called the fire department and then broke out hoses to start wetting down our wood-sided house (with wood shake roof) and the vegetation on the hill because burning embers were flying everywhere. The fire station was at the bottom of the hill, just 1.5 miles away, so it took the firefighters only about 5 minutes to arrive. But in that short time, the home was completely engulfed. It's incredible to see just how fast a house can become a raging inferno. The heat was so great that the neighbor's car, which was parked in the driveway at least 20 feet from the home, literally melted. Fortunately, no one was home because the family was out-of-town for the holidays; the only casualty was their property. The cause of the fire was determined to be a plug-in timer for christmas lights.

I'm recounting this story because the neighbor's mandatory dumb smoke detectors did nothing to save their home. Had smart smoke detectors been available back then and installed, it's very possible they could have saved their home because they could have been alerted while the overloaded or defective timer was still smoldering or while the fire was very small. What's so "NOT smart" about that? Worst case scenario, they don't receive (or they don't notice) the alert on their phone, in which case their smart detector is no worse than a dumb detector.

ETA: Given a choice between installing AFCI's or smart detectors, I'd take the smart detectors hands-down.
 

steve66

Senior Member
Well, there isn't any requirement to have a home smoke detection system monitored, so I guess the smart phone notification is actually a step up from what I have and what many people have.

Although I agree, a monitored system would be better, not everyone wants to pay for such a system.

I'm mostly surprised that the sunlight hitting a plastic toy is enough to cause a fire. Never would have guessed that.
 

hbiss

EC, Westchester, New York NEC: 2014
Location
Hawthorne, New York NEC: 2014
Occupation
EC
The problem is that this generation puts blind faith in their phones because they don't know any better. I can think of a dozen reasons why smoke detectors notifying your phone is a bad idea. Number 1 is major reliability issues and #2 is a false sense of security. Sure, maybe it's better than nothing and this guy got the call- this time. If there is a next time he shouldn't think he (or anybody else reading this news piece) are going to be so lucky. What if there was an elderly person or pets in the house? Now the consequences become severe. A delay of only minutes can mean the loss of life. But unfortunately these people think that their phone can do anything and they are safe, just like when their mommy gave it to them in the crib as a pacifier.

If they are as smart as they think their phones are this should serve as a wake-up call. If they can spend money on techi toys they can afford a fire/security system that is monitored. Sure, nobody thinks that they need to spend the money- until something like this happens. Most smart people will have learned a lesson, but those who are addicted to their phones... maybe not.

-Hal
 
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Well, there isn't any requirement to have a home smoke detection system monitored, so I guess the smart phone notification is actually a step up from what I have and what many people have. ...
Sure, it's a step up when it works. But I was thinking about situations where fire/smoke alarm monitoring is required, such as a nursing home or a dynamite factory.
 

kwired

Electron manager
Location
NE Nebraska
Well, there isn't any requirement to have a home smoke detection system monitored, so I guess the smart phone notification is actually a step up from what I have and what many people have.
We had devices that could do this before smart phones.

Sensaphone - basic unit calls 4 different numbers. keeps calling until someone enters an acknowledgement code.
 

hbiss

EC, Westchester, New York NEC: 2014
Location
Hawthorne, New York NEC: 2014
Occupation
EC
I was just looking at Sensaphone for a unit that would email or text a customer when water was detected in a basement. Nothing wrong with that, it's not a life-or-death situation. Their unit has an ethernet jack for the internet and 4 inputs that can be used for many different things. I understand that these are popular in data centers and server rooms to monitor temperature, power outages, water, etc.

Like you said, been around for a long time.

-Hal
 
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Jon456

Senior Member
Location
Colorado
If they are as smart as they think their phones are this should serve as a wake-up call. If they can spend money on techi toys they can afford a fire/security system that is monitored. Sure, nobody thinks that they need to spend the money- until something like this happens. Most smart people will have learned a lesson, but those who are addicted to their phones... maybe not.
Hal, I'm curious if you subscribe to a monthly monitoring service. The vast majority of people, including myself at this time, cannot justify the cost. Is there a risk? Absolutely. Is the risk worth the cost of a monitoring service? That's debatable and includes many factors: homeowner or renter, age of home, whether or not sprinklers are installed, age and number of occupants, behavior patterns (e.g., smokers or non-smokers), area that the home is located in, cost of the monitoring, insurance, etc.

You claim that people who can afford "techi toys" can similarly afford a monitored alarm system. That's rather presumptuous. These "techi toys" that you dismiss are now fairly inexpensive devices. A "Nest Protect" smart smoke alarm (and CO detector) can be bought for ~$100 and has no subscription fees. Internet-connected security cameras can be added for $100 to $200 and some function without any subscription service. The people buying these "techi toys" already have high-speed internet, so what are their total costs? Just a few hundred dollars as a one-time purchase. On the other hand, monitored services can range from $15/month to over several hundred dollars per month. The more traditional providers, like ADT, will typically charge $100 to $300 to install, and ~$30 to $60 per month with a 3 year contract. So at a minimum, that's about $1,180 over 3 years. How can you say that's comparable to $100 to $300 for those "techi toys" (which are serviceable for more than 3 years)?

Besides the monthly subscription costs, there are other drawbacks to monitored service. One problem is false alarms resulting in emergency responses to non-events. The problem is so bad that many (most?) jurisdictions will charge a rather hefty fine if they respond to a false alarm. And while there may be some "false sense of security" from smart detectors sending alerts to smartphones, it can be argued that monitored services can also provide a false sense of security because those services are also fallible (and I'm sure their contracts absolve them of any legal liability if they fail to do what you expect of them).

There is no perfect solution and no 100% guarantee. Each individual or family must decide their acceptable level of risk and what they are willing to pay. The vast majority of people have no alarm system and are protected only by mandatory "dumb" smoke detectors. Some people have 24/7 security guards watching their property. In between is a spectrum of devices and services, which include monitored alarms and also smart devices, both of which provide far more security than most homes have.
 

hbiss

EC, Westchester, New York NEC: 2014
Location
Hawthorne, New York NEC: 2014
Occupation
EC
Hal, I'm curious if you subscribe to a monthly monitoring service.
No I don't. I just have regular old smoke/co detectors. Why don't I have a monitored system, especially since I can install it myself? Probably because it's not on my to do list because, like most people, I never had an incident that would make me think about it. When people have their house broken into they get a security system. After a power outage there is always a run on generators. You get the picture.

But the one thing I wouldn't waste my time on if I were going to do something is something like what we are talking about. Just too unreliable when life and property are at stake. I can't tell you how many times I never get calls or see texts or emails until hours later. Then how about being miles away from your home and having to explain to the 911 operator just where your house is. I suppose for someone with a pathological addiction to their phone where they go into seizures if it's not in their left hand none of that would be in their thought process. But I'm just a normal person.

The people buying these "techi toys" already have high-speed internet, so what are their total costs? Just a few hundred dollars as a one-time purchase. On the other hand, monitored services can range from $15/month to over several hundred dollars per month. The more traditional providers, like ADT, will typically charge $100 to $300 to install, and ~$30 to $60 per month with a 3 year contract.
Yeah, and they are paying probably in excess of $250/mo just for cable service. Kinda makes that $15-30/mo seem trivial.

... there are other drawbacks to monitored service. One problem is false alarms resulting in emergency responses to non-events. The problem is so bad that many (most?) jurisdictions will charge a rather hefty fine if they respond to a false alarm.
And you calling 911 to report what turns out to be a false alarm isn't the same thing?

-Hal
 

kwired

Electron manager
Location
NE Nebraska
I was just looking at Sensaphone for a unit that would email or text a customer when water was detected in a basement. Nothing wrong with that, it's not a life-or-death situation. Their unit has an ethernet jack for the internet and 4 inputs that can be used for many different things. I understand that these are popular in data centers and server rooms to monitor temperature, power outages, water, etc.

Like you said, been around for a long time.

-Hal
House on fire when no one is there isn't a life or death situation either.

If you have a system of any sort that notifies you of trouble, you can call someone else, maybe a neighbor and ask them to check out what may be going on before calling 911 if you don't want false alarm dispatching of police/fire dept. If you have something that lets you look at live surveillance maybe that helps confirm what is going on.
 

hbiss

EC, Westchester, New York NEC: 2014
Location
Hawthorne, New York NEC: 2014
Occupation
EC
House on fire when no one is there isn't a life or death situation either.

If you have a system of any sort that notifies you of trouble, you can call someone else, maybe a neighbor and ask them to check out what may be going on before calling 911 if you don't want false alarm dispatching of police/fire dept. If you have something that lets you look at live surveillance maybe that helps confirm what is going on.
True all of that. But the problem I see is this becoming popular with the techi generation so that it will replace a proper system when there are lives at stake. It's not good when technology is available that is beyond some peoples intelligence.

-Hal
 

kwired

Electron manager
Location
NE Nebraska
True all of that. But the problem I see is this becoming popular with the techi generation so that it will replace a proper system when there are lives at stake. It's not good when technology is available that is beyond some peoples intelligence.

-Hal
Single family dwellings - there is no such requirements for the most part. Simple smoke alarms are about all that is required for fire and I wouldn't call it fire protection just an alert system for occupants. Nobody home and a fire starts, house still potentially burns down.

Wouldn't necessarily want a smoke/fire alarm that automatically calls fire department every time you burn something while cooking either.
 
What might be valuable is an integrated system that uses information from a number of sources.
For example: When your smoke/fire alarm sounds off, look at your house with your neighbors' surveillance cameras.

Unfortunately, integrating disparate data sources into useful information is one of the things that the data/silly-little-digital-devices industry is notoriously bad at, and prone to charging astronomical amounts for when it is available.
 

hbiss

EC, Westchester, New York NEC: 2014
Location
Hawthorne, New York NEC: 2014
Occupation
EC
The only thing I worry about is something like parents using it to "keep their their kids safe" when they come home from school with nobody home. Or maybe elderly parents.

-Hal
 
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