Problem Solved? A “Plain” Smoke Alarm

With the recent Amish smoke alarm controversy in mind, Tom Geist may very well have found a solution to the problem.

Clearly, Tom has a sense of humor. Apparently the Swartzentruber Amish people he shares this with do too: “They all seem to laugh” says Tom.

As you can see from these photos, this is very low-tech indeed. With the added bonus of being easy-to-construct and highly practical.

Amish Fire Alarm


Amish-friendly Smoke Alarm Directions

I’m not quite sure what “Woo-daa-waa-daa-mee” means, but I think I like it.

Run with the Amish

This isn’t the first race I’ve seen billed as an “Amish Country” event, with half-marathons happening annually in Lancaster County and Holmes County.

This year’s race will in fact be the fourth edition of the contest held in Adams County, Ohio, home to a settlement of four Amish churches. From the description:

The course takes you through the beautiful Amish community, as well as the country farms of Wheat Ridge, Unity, and Duffy Roads in West Union. Amish children will be at the water stops in front of their schools. Amish families along with others will be all along the course with water and goodies, and to cheer you on

The race takes place September 26, 2015 and includes a marathon, half-marathon, and 5K. Proceeds apparently benefit the Amish school fund.

I found a photo (source link removed) of what looks like the medals awarded in a previous year. Pretty neat design, looks at least partially hand-crafted:

Amish Marathon Medals

More Amish winter sports

Speaking of sports, winter time is fun time in Amish communities, especially if you can drive a buggy. We’ve already seen examples of buggy snowboarding and buggy skiing, so why not some sledding for the children?

Contributor ShipshewanaIndiana shares this photo of a buggy towing at least a couple of sleds. He says “It was an active day, I think there were 3 or 4 groups running around the neighborhood behind a buggy, a cart and ponies.”

Amish Children Sledding Towed By Buggy

Buggy Pulling Amish Sledders

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    1. Bill Woods

      Amish smoke alarm

      VERY good! One other suggestion though – give to a community organization for handing out to those who can use them (even if they pop the batteries out for other uses). A little side humor from a retired landlord…

    2. Marie Dawson


      I am very surprised that they cant use battery smoke alarms, I was under the impression they couldnt use wired electricity.

      1. Marie and Robin; Marks chimney;

        It has nothing to do with batteries or electricity. It’s the reasoning that the Lord is greater than a smoke detector. They believe anyone is playing God with one, and it’s foolish if anyone thinks they can outsmart Him. Nowhere in the Bible does God tear down, that is Satan’s job. God only builds up. If He is going to allow you to burn, He is not going to allow the smoke detector to go off now is He?
        The other way to look at it; The Lord gives us the technology, doctors and cures for things, why not use it?

        Mark; Gas detectors need to be positioned correctly for the type of gas. Propane is heavier than air and they need to be at floor level. Natural Gas is lighter than air and needs to be mounted high like smoke. With gas appliances you’re best with CO detector. Gas vapor mixes readily with air becoming safe very fast. (unlike gasoline that the vapor does not dissipate)
        Your smoke issue with the stove is a chimney or pipe issue. A chimney that drafts properly creates a lower pressure area in the flue, connecting pipe, and stove. The hotter inside flue and colder outside flue, the stronger the draft. Atmospheric air pressure pushes air into the stove intake to fill the void created by lighter rising gasses in chimney. The same should happen when you open the door. Air rushes IN not OUT with a correct operating chimney. The chimney is the engine that drives the stove. They need to be sized and insulated properly. The outlet on stove located above door opening prevents smoke roll in issues.

    3. Bill Rushby

      Not a Laughing Matter

      I regard refusal to install smoke alarms as a serious safety issue.

      House fires frequently result in death, and smoke alarms give residents AND THEIR CHILDREN, a chance to escape.

      Again, I say this is not a laughing matter!

      1. I appreciate the concern Bill. I don’t think anyone is saying house fires are a laughing matter. But laughter defuses tension and sometimes lubricates a way to a solution. It’s also good for the health, at least that’s what they tell me 🙂

        Anyway, I don’t think the Swartzentruber Amish will change this belief, nor do I think we should expect them to mold their approach to personal protection to our own.

        Smoke alarms are but one tool or behavior that impacts personal safety. There are many others. And if safety trumps all else, we could argue against many “Amish” behaviors.

        We could ban children from using scooters on public roads, ban wood stoves in homes (a good source of housefires, after all), or ban the horse and buggy (almost always the loser in road accidents) itself. There are many directions you could take it.

        I don’t personally agree with the stance of the plain Amish here, but I’m wary of coming down too hard against it when they seem to have a deep-seated and honest belief about this.

        I believe you speak from a place of concern, and again I appreciate that. But I think I will keep doing as Tom says his Swartzentruber friends do here, and enjoy the gag 😉

        1. As one whose earliest memories are connected with a house fire that took all that our family of 5 (youngest being 3 days old and still in the hospital) owned except for a coffee table, a Bible story book, the clothes on our backs, plus a skillet that was dug out of the charred remains, I think I can speak with a degree of experience on this issue. I know as well as most — and better than many — just how devastating a house fire can be. But even so, you can’t take the threats of what could happen — or even what has happened — too seriously. I applaud the Amish humor here, as well as Tom and Erik for sharing it. Without the humor to offset the bad, all we have is the bad.

          BTW, excellent response, Erik — as always.

        2. Betty


          What a well written response. Your explaination was perfect.

    4. Robin Miller

      Smoke Alarms

      I’m surprised too, that they will resist using battery powered smoke alarms. With the use of open flame technology in Amish homes, the danger of fire is even greater. Hopefully more progressive bishops will come along and change this rule. I fear for those families, especially the little children. I admire and respect the Amish on so many levels but this idea needs to go the way of the buggies without flashing lights and reflective triangles for safety.

    5. Mark - Holmes Co.

      You are right, Bill Rushby, house-fires are not a laughing matter. It should be pointed out that not all Amish groups agree with the stance that group has taken. Though we do not have a working smoke alarm, (it went off too often when fire was started in the wood stove we use sometimes in the winter and if the stove was opened to put more wood in, it often went off, too.) we have gas detectors in our home and there are many others who have alarms of both kinds. If we used wood-heat regularly I might be more inclined to look at smoke alarms more closely, but I’m more concerned about gas leaks in our home. Also, we live in a one-story house where every room has easy access to the outside at ground level. But I think this “Plain Fire Alarm” falls into the “gag” category like the “Country Weather System” — if stick is wet, it is raining, if it is moving it is windy, etc., or the “Three-piece Chicken dinner” that turns out to be three kernels of corn in a little box. The Plain Fire Alarm is not to be taken seriously.
      The whole fire/smoke alarm was a topic of discussion after church yesterday and the main opinion seemed to be that objecting to them on religious grounds doesn’t match the views of our group. The discussion raised a question: Do the groups objecting to fire alarms have fire extinguishers? We have several in the house, shop, & barn, but I’m wondering how those who object to fire alarms feel about fire extinguishers.

    6. Andy White


      This is an issue that has and should stir up thought. It is, at times, very difficult to truly empathize with people you cannot understand. The Amish appear on one hand to value family almost above God. Yet here the issue is safety of family, and it appears that the Amish place a standard, which they believe to be God’s, above the safety of their family. To the non Amish person it is impossible to reconcile the inconsistency. To the Amish that hold against the smoke alarm, it must be understood that they do not see a conflict simply because their sense of trust in God is in some ways fatalistic. An Amish person might pray for safety like this, “Lord if it be not against thy will may we get home safely”. We have to start with understanding and trust God to help us if we wish to help somebody else. The average Christian feels that “God’s will” is naturally to keep them safe, it is assumed. The Amish don’t exactly understand it this way. While we do believe Gods will is for our good and not for evil, we would look at that which appears bad and have confidence that God will use it for the good. The concept of separateness is also so engrained in the cultural psyche of the Amish, that trust in God to care for and provide when separateness is maintained, is also assumed. I hope this explanation helps those concerned to both understand and possibly to be helpful. I am thankful for the concern of others for the welfare of our Amish and Mennonite brothers and sisters in Jesus.

    7. Mark - Holmes Co.

      True, Andy, an Amish person MIGHT pray “Lord, if it not be against Your will may we get home safely,” but it does not sound like anything I have heard or would be likely to pray out-loud or mentally.
      I never thought we might appear to put family above God. That’s a sobering thought. Naturally we love our family, but God is first & foremost and my desire (as a parent, husband, son, brother) is for my family to love & serve God and to help me see where I can serve Him better.
      Do I remember right that you have joined an Amish-Mennonite or Beachy church?

    8. Nadja

      AKA Redneck fire alarm

      I have seen something similar on another website – one of those pre-packaged aluminum foil popcorn poppers hung over a doorway and labeled a “Redneck Fire Alarm.”

      The casual racism is amazing.

      1. Mark - Holmes Co.

        This is going way off topic, but I have often wondered just what “redneck” means. I have met people who seemed almost proud to call themselves a “redneck” but I have also heard it is rude and disrespectful to call anyone a “redneck” but I have seen a “redneck Cookbook” for sale, too. What’s the deal? If that is going too far out of topic, Erik, just delete this.

        1. Not at all. I’m not quite sure what Nadja is referring to regarding casual racism but as for the “redneck” term I think it is one of those terms which was once purely derogatory…then the group to which it was applied decided to “own” it and turn it into something positive or to be proud of. I think it’s something like, it’s okay to call yourself a redneck, but generally insulting to use it towards others.

          1. carol


            Backwoods…Hillbilly ..Duck Dynasty?
            When I hear it, it’s usually derogatory and means backwards, poor, conservative, gun rights, God fearing (sometimes) people, BIBLE thumpers… on & on.
            Usually, in my opinion, it is used by people who see themselves better than others, in a higher class, wealthier, smarter, and with more status and power, & prideful.
            If someone you know, or are friends with, puts ANYONE down…be aware…as we are all God’s children, (like it or not) & PERFECT in God’s eyes, WHEN we ask for his forgiveness, and pattern our life after HIM! HUMBLE YOURSELVES before the LORD!

          2. I agree, Erik. It’s evolved to the place that the label itself is not so much offensive, it’s just when it’s used by someone with an implied air of superiority/condescension.

    9. Mark - Holmes Co.

      Okay, that makes some sense. thank you for the explanation. Before you put this on I mentioned my question to someone else who told me there are people who make a career out of telling redneck jokes but, like you said, it is one thing to poke fun at your own self but another thing to put that label on others. I’ll just play it safe and steer away from calling anyone a label that sounds questionable. 🙂

    10. Alice Mary


      I remember hearing somewhere (don’t ask where or when) that “redneck” refers to the sunburned neck one can certainly get from spending time working in the sun (farming?)…just like there are white collar and blue collar workers/jobs. In this case, a “redneck” would be a person working hard in the elements…in the fields, farming or doing other “outdoor” work (Construction? Barn raising?) At any rate, I agree that it’s usually used in a derogatory way, though it’s become (as Erik stated) more “positive”, at least if you consider yourself one and are proud of it.

      Red, white or blue, it seems a primarily American term 🙂 !

      Alice Mary

    11. Nadja

      Redneck and history of northern elites in the south and west

      Northern elites justified driving farmers off their land for coal mines in the south, and stealing homesteads for railroads with marketing campaigns that focused on how backward, undereducated, and superstitious these groups were supposed to be.

      Northern elites have long favored disarming the working class because they fear that at some point income disparity could lead to a peasant revolt.

      The term “redneck is insulting; and in the early days the coal companies and the railroad companies make a great deal of the supposed “racial impurity” of southerners and westerners who were considered to have “savage” blood. (Elite term of the era for the indigenous tribes.) Can we say racism was a major portion of the propaganda campaign?

      Reading some of the propaganda is fascinating; some of the elite made the KKK sound tolerant. I know more than one WV or KY gal who’d love to serve Jeff Foxworthy a rabid raccoon while said raccoon was still alive. Those of us from the Northwest just want to have him play the Euell Gibbons game. (First one to eat something that tastes like a wild hickory nut and live wins.)

      1. Adam

        Ha Ha, so PC of you – ‘Northern Elites’, just call them what they are – ‘cursed Yankees’.

    12. Tom A Geist

      Woo-daa-waa-daa-me Explained

      While at some Amish friends place for a meal with the family a little girl kept trying to get me to say Amish words. Some of them were simple to repeat but she came up with one that I just could not say right and she was getting a little frustrated.

      So she started to break the word up into pieces and have me echo them back to her. She would say “Woo-daa…………waa-daa….” and then some other part that my ear would just not pick up so finally I just said “Woo-Daa-Waa-Daa-Me!!” <—you must say this as an exclamation, kind of like if you had said "Woo-Hoo!" Everyone laughed. The girl said, “No,” and would start over, and the same thing happened. Finally after I couldn’t get it I said that her and I had just came up with a new Amish word. People asked what it meant, and I said Woo-daa-waa-daa-me is something you exclaim when something good happens to you, like if you are walking along and find a $10 bill on the ground. I tell them anytime something good happens to them to say ‘Woo-Daa-Waa-Daa-Me!’

      The Plain Fire Alarm is just one of many little funny gag gifts I give out to the scribes that write for The Budget and Die Botschaft that I visit. The first gag gift I give out I explain what the word means and then periodically say it again as I give other ones out. I tell them, the only time I don’t want to hear them say the word is when I leave…as in… “There goes Tom… finally…. WOO-DAA-WAA-DAA-ME!!! 🙂

      1. Thanks for revealing the origins of this mysterious term, Tom. One thing is for sure, I think you are a memorable visitor. Woo-daa-waa-daa-me! 😉

    13. Andy White

      Re: Mark

      I appreciate your thoughts Mark. Yes, I am a member of Fredericksburg Amish-Mennonite Fellowship.

      1. Mark - Holmes Co.

        Thanks for your response, Andy. I am not familiar with a Fredericksburg Amish-Mennonite Fellowship, so I looked it up in “The Amish-Mennonites of North America,” bu Cory Anderson and didn’t find it. I’m assuming it’s F-burg, VA. Am I correct? Is it a new church that is just not listed in the directory? Just curious.
        We have some relatives in Beachy churches, so are familiar with some of them.

        1. Andy White

          Re: Mark

          Mark, we are in Fredericksburg Texas. We aren’t listed on Cory’s site as far as I know. There are so many new Plain Churches that it must be tough for Cory to keep up with listing them all. Many of the members of the Beachy and Amish-Mennonite Churches in Texas were formerly Amish. None in our church were formerly Amish, however we have people from Amish-Mennonite background,Holdeman Mennonite background,Catholic background, Baptist Background and Plymouth Brethren background. It is very possible I have met some of your relatives. I have visited Amish and Mennonite Churches and Communities in Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan,Maine, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, New York, Canada,Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua…whew it was fun just trying to remember them all! I was just in your neck of the woods last year Mark. What a wonderful landscape God has blessed you with!

          1. Mark - Holmes Co.

            Interesting. I did not know there was a F-burg, TX, but interesting to know that. Yes, we have been blessed to live in such a scenic area. From what I have seen of TX, it looks very different from Ohio!

    14. Naomi Wilson

      It sure would be nice if there was a Fredericksburg, Va Amish-Mennonite fellowship. Then we wouldn’t have to drive an hour to get to church! Although really our church is well worth the hour drive.

    15. ShipshewanaIndiana

      I took his into work (RV factory in northern Indiana) my Amish co-workers enjoyed it, although most felt it would be too late to get out of the house by the time the popcorn was popping 🙂

    16. Dirk

      Reading some of the comments here, I see some people claim they are against the Swartzies stance on smoke alarms out of concern for their children and their families.

      Now not to be insulting, but it seems to me that some people imply an unexpressed statement by their concern, that if we can just live according to every safety measure possible, then we could live forever.
      Almost as if following safety measures could cheat death.

      The main issue with this is that they mistakenly think that life and death is in their hands and not in the hands of God.
      However if you believe that God decides who lives and who dies, then you understand that all the smoke alarms in creation, all the safety rules and regulations ever invented, will not thwart God will.

      I think the 100% death rate of humanity proves this beyond debate.
      God sent death into the world and to date, safety measures have not impacted one iota death’s 100% success rate.

      Law makers and those of citizenry concern, place their trust in safety measures to protect themselves from death and destruction, providing a false sense of security in their own actions.
      The Amish however place their trust in God to protect them from death and destruction, in the security of faith.

      How can we ever expect those of no faith or weak faith, to voluntarily place God over smoke alarms for protection?

      1. Forest in North Carolina

        “How can we ever expect those of no faith or weak faith, to voluntarily place God over smoke alarms for protection?”

        I think, if I am reading your meaning correctly, that you are saying that people who use smoke detectors have little or no faith. Correct me if I’m wrong here.

        Just out of curiosity, do you look both ways before you cross the street? By your line of reasoning, if you do,, then you lack faith in God.

      2. Tom Geist

        As “Forest in North Carolina” points out in his post… this can go both ways.

        If God did allow a fire, are you wrong to try and put it out? It’s a real balancing act for us mere humans. How far will one go to test/show their faith.

        Some will pick up poison snakes to prove their faith. Most people know that you dress warm in winter when you go outside, they don’t say… “God will provide” and go out half naked. One doesn’t walk off a cliff thinking God will save me. (Well they might, but they probably will only do that once. OUCH! 🙂

        So at what point are we expected to do what we can for ourselves and the rest leave to God? At no time?

        Thought it does not fit 100%, I like Ignatian paradox, “Pray [and and do things] as if everything depends on you, Act as if everything depends on God.” (I added the little part)

        It’s interesting to think about.
        Tom in Lincoln

    17. Tom Geist

      The lighter Side of having Faith...

      The talks about one having faith made me think of a joke. Please do not be offended, it’s a joke.

      So, it’s raining really hard. There’s a fundamental Christian man living beside a river that starts to flood. The sheriff’s deputies come by and tell him he should leave before the river cuts off the road.

      “The Lord will save me,” he tells them.

      The river rises up to the front porch and some folks come by in a boat and tell him to hop in and they’ll take him to safety.

      “The Lord will save me,” he tells them.

      The water rises above the first floor and the man has to climb on his roof. The National Guard comes by in a boat and begs the man to come with them.

      “The Lord will save me,” he tells them.

      The waters keep rising and the man is clinging to his chimney. A helicopter appears and lowers a rope, but he refuses to go, telling them “The Lord will save me.”

      Finally he is standing on top of the chimney and the river is still rising.

      “Lord,” he calls out, “Lord, why have you forsaken me?”

      The sky splits open and a HUGE voice booms out… “I sent two boats and a helicopter… What more do you want?”

      Tom Geist—Lincoln, Ne

    18. Alice Mary

      I love it!!

      That’s a keeper, Tom G.! And that’s exactly how I often feel (the last line)!

      God helps those who help themselves(so I’ve heard.)

      Alice Mary

    19. Nadja

      Odd Intolerance

      I find it interesting that people feel free to attack the Amish for not having smoke detectors, yet they would never consider attacking Muslims for similar beliefs that they hold. Many of the Muslims in my area do not believe in following “man made laws” and ignore laws. I suspect smoke detector laws might be among them; I know the law regarding secured infant seats isn’t always obeyed – I have had disagreements with women from the Middle East about how their child really needed to be properly secured, “man made law” or not. Polygamy is also fairly frequent in the SF Bay Area, yet there are no prosecutions.

      1. Tom A Geist

        Hi Nadja,

        “Attack” seems a pretty strong word to use for what people offer as an opinion here. I rightly or wrongly assume that the people that come to this site really appreciate Amish in most ways. No one is saying they will take them to court or how they need to be put in jail. Possible if this was a Muslim place the talk of things Muslims do or don’t do would be brought up as well, but it’s not. Of course you can bring up pretty much anything, like you did. (as long as the owner see’s it as adding to the main point of this place)

        Muslims are important, but you can’t expect people a Amish Information site to do more than just casually mention Muslims, as they pertain to Amish issues. Does that make sense?


        1. Tom: ““Attack” seems a pretty strong word to use for what people offer as an opinion here.”

          Me: Tom, when I first read the post using the word “attack” I had the same initial feeling. But then as I considered what seemed to be the tone in some of the comments, well, I found it hard to disagree with the term. I might not use it myself to describe what has gone on, but after a bit of reflection I decided that it was close enough to possibly be true.

          Just my $.02.

    20. Nadja

      Judging the Amish

      Thanks, Don. I think that Tom missed my point – which is that people seem to feel free to dismiss the Amish beliefs on the matter by claiming superiority for their own value systems.

      Some of the posts were downright dismissive of the religious beliefs of the Amish people.

      I was using Muslims as an analogy – the same people who feel free to attack Amish beliefs regarding smoke alarms are very unlikely to criticize the beliefs of groups that are likely to object, possibly in a strenuous fashion.

      1. Tom Geist

        You might be correct Nadja that I didn’t understand your meaning completely, as I was confused a bit that you talked about people “attacking” without referencing which people you considered were doing so, so I assumed anyone that didn’t go along with the Amish way were ‘attacking’ them.

        I stand corrected.

        Tom in Lincoln

      2. Well as the Appearance of Judging Those Felt to be Judging the Amish

        Nadja, I just call it the way that I see it — while trying to give others the same slack that I would want were the roles reversed.

        Personally, it seems to me that there is no more “attacking” in one direction than there is in the other. Some don’t agree with the perspective of another, and voice it; then someone disagrees with with that, and in turn voices it.

        In the end, there seems little difference between the two. While I check myself before becoming critical of someone using that word (‘attach’) within the context here, it also seems to me that if it applies to the one side it equally applies to the other. I agree with Tom that it seems more like people — on both sides — just expressing their views.

    21. Sandra K

      From what I can determine, while we trust God to be with us in all tribulation, we don’t go out to look for it…kind of like “lead us not into temptation,” or as in the/a newer version of the Lord’s Prayer “keep us from the time of tribulation, but deliver us from evil.” Perhaps it can be seen as toying with God’s mercy by NOT using smoke alarms — or fire extinguishers?? Just a thought…

      Nonetheless, it’s not my say over the conversation that matters…perhaps the thing to “push” is having good escape routes in case a fire occurs?