Southfield installs SmartBurners at senior living apartments

By: Kathryn Pentiuk | Southfield Sun | Published February 7, 2024

 New SmartBurners were installed in 100 units, free of charge to residents at Woodridge Apartments.

New SmartBurners were installed in 100 units, free of charge to residents at Woodridge Apartments.

Photo provided by the city of Southfield


SOUTHFIELD — The residents of Woodridge Apartments in Southfield really love to cook, according to the state fire marshal, and their culinary skills are a little safer thanks to a new safety program.

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs praised the Bureau of Fire Services and MI Prevention, a group of five fire organizations and over 600 fire departments with 350 community organizations dedicated to making Michigan residents safer in their communities, for installing SmartBurner systems in 100 apartments at no cost to the residents Jan. 16.

The installation was made possible through a grant and a collaboration between the Bureau of Fire Services, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and MI Prevention.

Southfield Fire Chief Johnny Menifee explained that SmartBurners provide another layer of safety to cooking. The burners are built for electric coil stoves and have a built-in thermostat that prevents the stovetop from reaching fire-causing temperatures. According to a press release from LARA, SmartBurners have been installed in more than 250,000 housing units across North America, without a single cooking fire being reported when they are in use.

“Currently, cooking fires are the leading cause of household fires nationally. And when you add that to an aging population, the risk of injury and death only increases,” Menifee stated. “We picked the Woodridge Apartments because of the units and the uniqueness … there.” He said that between 2019 and 2023, 13 cooking fires resulted in eight civilian and two firefighter injuries at Woodbridge. He explained that in the same four-year span, the Fire Department responded to 165 cooking fires in the city at large.

State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer said that as the SmartBurners were being installed, a resident came in with her groceries and told them she didn’t want her burners replaced because she cooks bacon daily. A SmartBurner company representative told her to try cooking her bacon on the SmartBurner while they moved down the hall to install more burners. He said that the next day, when they were finishing the installations, the same resident went down the hallway to tell them that it was the best her bacon had ever been cooked.

“What we found out in that building there is that those folks do a lot of cooking,” Sehlmeyer said. “They like to cook. This device looks like a cast-iron frying pan. So that’s what actually takes the place of the coil. And it does have cast iron, and it heats the food more evenly.”

Menifee explained that normal coils get up to around 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to melt aluminum, and that most cooking oils will auto-ignite at just over 700 degrees Fahrenheit. The SmartBurners have temperature controls in them that don’t allow them to get above the range where elements can self-ignite.

Menifee stated that the installation process for the SmartBurners is “that simple.” Unplug the old burners and then plug in the new ones, and the longest part is the seasoning period, where the burners run on high for seven to 15 minutes to season the coating. Menifee added that there’s a smell that comes with the seasoning step, but it dissipates quickly.

Mayor Ken Siver attended the installation of the SmartBurners as the board president of the Southfield Non-Profit Housing Corp., founded in 1973 with the mission of “providing comfortable spaces for everyone in our city.” According to SNHC’s website, it “maintains quality communities for seniors, the disabled and eligible families.” The SNHC owns the Woodridge Apartments.

“We’re very grateful to Fire Chief Johnny Menifee for securing this grant from the state. Our hope is to install these at McDonnell Tower and River Park Place,” Siver said. “So we’re going to look for grants, or if we’re not successful, budget it as a capital improvement in the years ahead.”

Menifee said he’s looking to install one in his mother’s home. “I think this is a worthwhile product to look at that we can lower the risk, especially with our aging community that still want to have the ability to live on their own. This is another great safety feature that you can add to help keep a loved one safe.”

He added that the Fire Department will continue to monitor Woodridge Apartments to see how effective the SmartBurners are at fire prevention. He explained that it is also important to replace the batteries in carbon monoxide detectors and to always contact the Fire Department for a fire emergency rather than attempt to fight a fire on your own.