This weekend Atlanta firefighters went door-to-door in some of the city’s low-income neighborhoods to replace free fire alarms that may be counterfeit. The fire department unwittingly distributed 18,500 bogus photoelectric smoke alarms from 2006 through this month as part of the Atlanta Smoke Alarm Program. Now the alarms have to be replaced ASAP, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The problem dates back five years to when the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department bought the alarms from a vendor in Calabasas, California. The fire department later learned from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) that the smoke detectors carried counterfeit UL labels, did not meet UL’s safety requirements and were never authorized to bear the UL Mark.
“These counterfeit smoke alarms are a threat to the fire safety and fire prevention campaign that Atlanta Fire Rescue has embarked upon for years.” said Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran on the department’s website. “We were out over the weekend and have replaced hundreds of detectors, covering just about all the homes that notified us,” Jolian Bunridge, a department spokesman, told Consumer Reports.
The CPSC and the fire department are asking residents who suspect they may have a bogus alarm to call the department at (404) 546-2733 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to request a replacement. One way to tell is to check the UL mark on the bottom of the alarm (see the recall notice for details). According to UL’s How to spot fakes, legitimate labels for smoke alarms (and other electronic devices) should have these four elements:
- The UL trademark in a circle, with the letter L lower than the U.
- LISTED written out in capital letters.
- The product’s identity, e.g., Class 3 power supply (this is optional).
- A control or issue number.
Other red flags, UL notes, include: Lack of a product name or certification label on the box or product itself; use of the words “Approved" or "Pending" instead of "Listed” or "Classified;” misspellings on the product packaging, lack of product manuals or no toll-free number to report problems.
Consumer Reports advises buyers to check that smoke alarms have labels that say they meet UL Standard 217 and that CO alarms meet UL Standard 2034. (ETL-SEMKO and the Canadian Standards Associate also certify alarms.) It’s also a good idea to check the date of manufacture as alarms can lose sensitivity over time. Our buying guide to CO and smoke alarms, with Ratings available to subscribers, recommends replacing CO alarms after five years and smoke alarms every decade.
While the Atlanta firemen work to replace the alarms, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into the vendor, Silver Sails Corp. The City of Atlanta is “currently examining all available legal options” to recover the $100,000 spent on the counterfeit alarms, according to the fire department.