Lawmakers Want Law Changed to Save Lives - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates: An Alarming Failure

Lawmakers Want Law Changed to Save Lives

State Rep. Mike Turner, who is also a firefighter State Rep. Mike Turner, who is also a firefighter
State Sen. Tim Burchett State Sen. Tim Burchett

A NewsChannel 5 investigation has state lawmakers demanding change.

They say, after seeing our reports on flawed smoke detectors, they now realize most people may not be protected. And because of their detector, they might not survive a fire.

More people die in fires in Tennessee than almost anywhere else in the country. But, usually, it's not the actual fire that kills them. It's the smoke.

And, that's where state representative Mike Turner tells consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus that he wants to make a difference.

"We have the ability to do something that will immediately save lives here in Tennessee," says Turner, a Democrat from Nashville.

Turner wants to toughen Tennessee's smoke detector laws and essentially ban the kind of smoke detector most people have in their homes.

He adds, "The ionization detectors do not work correctly."

Turner, a long-time Metro firefighter, was on hand and watched as NewsChannel 5 Investigates put smoke detectors to the test to see how quickly they would sense smoke.

But the ionization detector did not go off until the room was filled with thick smoke and it was nearly impossible to breathe without firefighting gear on.

"That made a real believer out of me," Turner says.

But what really convinced him was seeing how a different kind of smoke detector known as a photoelectric detector went off when there was far less smoke in the room and when it was still relatively easy to breathe and, more importantly, get out alive.

Turner says of our test, "I had no idea there was that big of a gap between them. I just figured a smoke detector is a smoke detector. But, they're not. There's a big difference."

That's why he is now proposing a bill that would require photoelectric detectors in:

  • all new homes
  • eventually all existing homes
  • all apartments and duplexes
  • hotels, motels and nursing homes

Kraus asks Turner, "You want a photoelectric detector everywhere?"

Turner replies, "Yes, ma'am. I'm convinced they work and I think it'll save lives. Too many people die in this state because of fire and I think overnight this would change that."

It might have made a difference for Kandice Brown and her family. Two weeks ago, the Antioch family almost became another statistic.

Brown recalls, "There was so much smoke."

Their kitchen caught on fire and heavy smoke filled their apartment. But it was their 4 year old son, not their smoke detector that woke everyone up and saved the family.

"The smoke detector didn't even go off," Brown insists.

Now, the Browns think they know why they barely escaped an apartment full of smoke. It turns out, they had an ionization detector.

Terrance Brown says, "This is worthless. If it doesn't detect smoke, it's worthless."

State Senator Tim Burchett agrees.

"Human life, how do you put a value on that?" he says. The Republican from Knoxville is the co-sponsor of the smoke detector bill.

And the Debuty family is a big reason Burchett believes so strongly in this proposed legislation.

Last year, the East Tennessee family lost four children when their home caught on fire and their ionization detector failed to go off.

Lawmakers say paying just a few bucks more for a photoelectric detector is a small price to pay.

Burchett says, "People say you can't afford it. I say we can't afford not to."

And Representative Turner adds this analogy, "If you had the choice of buying a Pinto or a Lincoln and only had to spend two dollars more to get one, everyone would be driving a Lincoln and that's what we got here."

If lawmakers pass his bill, Turner says, Tennesseans will have some of the best fire protection in the country.

And Kandice Brown, the woman whose apartment caught on fire, says, "I'm all for it."

She and her husband say based on their own experience, they don't know why anyone wouldn't support it.

Terrance Brown looks at his ionization detector that failed to go off and says, "My whole family could have perished."

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