The Detroit Fire Department’s DIY Soda Can Alarm System

The Detroit Fire Department’s DIY Soda Can Alarm System


Just like the rest of the city, Detroit’s fire department is dreadfully underfunded. According to Detroit Free Press reporter Tresa Baldas, they’re so broke that they’ve had to devise their own DIY emergency alarm systems because they simply do not have the funding to install proper ones.

Each of Detroit’s 38 firehouses has its own makeshift emergency alarm system in place, rather than a modern system that could improve their response time by giving them details about the type of emergency through a combination of tones and an automated voice. One such emergency alarm consists of a soda can, with a few coins or screws inside of it, carefully placed on the edge of a fax machine. The alarm sounds when a fax gets printed out, knocking off the soda can with a tinny clang.

Hopefully, Detroit’s fire department will be receiving funding from the city to update their systems over the next ten years. In the meantime, this could be an opportunity for makers to reach out to Detroit’s firehouses to update their DIY alarms with some more affordable and effective systems. I can’t say how receptive the Detroit fire department might be to suggestions, but it seems like it couldn’t hurt to try, in fact, it might actually help!

[via Gizmodo]

0 thoughts on “The Detroit Fire Department’s DIY Soda Can Alarm System

  1. Scott Tuttle says:

    are we talking about the can or the fax machine??

  2. rocketryguy says:

    Decrease response time, not increase. Looks like the mother of invention is stomping all over these guys.

  3. rocketryguy says:

    Also, any alerting system would have to be bulletproof reliable. So not sure you’d want to do an arduino project for this.

    1. Philip Kwok says:

      I am not sure if you are trying to reply to someone’s comment that I cannot see. The Detroit fire dept. in the video does not use any microcontroller. In fact they simply put coins in a soda can so that when the fax machine pushes the paper out, it knocks the can off and they can hear it. They are doing it because there is no computerized system in the city (due to lack of funding). Btw, even if you want to make a better alarm system, using an Arduino should be fine. Actually the ATmega 16 or 32 series microcontrollers have been used for a lot of systems that runs on 24/7. The real “bulletproof” system should be as simple as possible and should not rely on electricity. Any embedded systems/ logic cannot be dimmed 99.9% reliable. The thing is if the system does what it suppose to do, then it is a good enough design. If the alarm can go off before the fire burns it and is able to alert the people before any injury occur, then it does not matter if it got destroyed after everyone got out of the building. The trick to invent something is not to make it as prefect as possible, it is to make it work and works the way you want it to. Perfection is the 2nd step.

  4. pcf11x says:

    Couldn’t they just hook a phone up to the fax line and let it ring? Although I suppose as soon as the fax machine picks up a phone will stop ringing. Then again as soon as a can hits the floor it is silent too. All they really need is a latching circuit that needs to be reset once it is triggered that powers an alarm. No one needs a microcontroller to do something that simple.

    I’ve got to admit a can with coins in it is dead simple to implement though.

    1. dtremit says:

      I’m pretty sure most fax machines can be configured to wait a certain number of rings before picking up. That and an external ringer for the hard of hearing would probably work well together.

      1. pcf11x says:

        Yeah that is how I’m thinking about it. The most fierce-some external ringers were manufactured for industrial environments, to be heard over the din of loud machines operating. So I imagine there are a lot of those units just going begging in Detroit these days.

        I can’t imagine firemen aren’t passing the things on a regular basis. If they aren’t they can probably pick them up by the truckload at a scrapyard around there.

        I know what is going on though, they’re holding out for the fancy modern system. Until then the can hitting the floor scores them a lot of sympathy points.

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Artist, writer, and teacher who makes work about popular culture, technology, and traditional craft processes.

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