Eulogy for Smoke Detectors

Above: remains from smoke detectors passed found in Grinnell Municipal Dump.


Today we mourn the loss of smoke detectors across Haines residence hall. With installation of newer, larger units completed in mid-August, the previous generation of smoke detectors will be laid to rest in Grinnell Municipal Dump, leaving behind a grieving family of coat hangers, plastic bags, and five hundred dollar fines.

Students and alumni across the world came together to mourn, with former students converging on campus everywhere from Colorado to as far away as Amsterdam to pay their respects. Raymond Arnolds ‘11 remembers fond memories of his smoke detector.

“The best weekends I can remember, and I remember most weekends,were ones with Old Smokey in the room. That’s what we called them. They were super chill. Totally cool with anything we wanted to burn, like incense or candles, you know, and now they’re gone. It just hasn’t sunk in yet.”

A vigil was held initially in Haines pit, but was interrupted when the fire alarm went off. The remainder of the service was held on top of the South loggia.

The Haines smoke detectors were installed in early 2007, with the promise of protecting students from the most dangerous of fires, and anything that creates smoke. Initial student response to the fleet of seemingly goody-two--shoes arbiters of law mechanically attached to their ceilings was mixed, but the charm and good looks of those smoke detectors won over the campus after years of hard work. Grinnell has a steep learning curve, and despite their cool exterior and blinking red lights, even recently, there were still some on campus that had not been won over. A 2010 article highlighted these lingering divisions, which were made clear by Susan Carter ‘14, who at the time believed that “...these smoke detectors are completely against self gov, and are just more evidence of the administrations heavy handed policies. Honestly, they are just making the campus less safe if anything, they will just push the fires off campus.”

Carter returned to campus for the vigil, visibly repentant of her past ways and wiping away tears, said,

“I take back everything I’ve said. I’ve seen those new smoke detectors and really, I’d probably be able to see them from space. I guess I didn’t know what I had until it was gone.”

Current students were equally represented in grieving. Even first year students joined in the proceedings, many remembering their overnight prospie days, made memorable by features of the smoke detectors. Kareem Markus ‘21 tells the B&S “the only reason I’m here is because of those smoke detectors. They created the right vibe on campus, which wasn’t there at all when I visited other campuses, even ones like Oberlin and Macalester.”

However, the smoke detector’s popularity was ultimately its downfall. Administration officials cite the lax attitude among reporting fire-based activities as their reasons to update to much bulkier, less cool models.

Said Campus Safety staff member David Martinson, “They were very concerned with being “likeable” and “cool” and “approachable” and less concerned with protecting students. But they are your smoke detectors, not your friends. We warned them again and again, but finally we had to cut the wires.”

As for the new alarms,

“They still have those blinking lights, but they’re just so hollow and cold. All my coat hangers are broken,” said an anonymous source.

Dissatisfaction with the now fully functional smoke detectors is widespread, and with the wide appeal of their predecessors, they have a tough road ahead of them.