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Fire Safety

NightHawk Smoke Alarm / Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Millions of hybrid detectors have been recalled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) after they received eight reported incidents of the potentially lifesaving devices not operating properly. Walter Kidde Portable Equipment Inc., owned by the multinational conglomeration United Technologies Corporation (UTC), sold around 3.6 million of the faulty detectors in the United States and 1.5 million in Canada. Kidde is now working with authorities in both countries to replace the 5.1 million units before any injuries are reported.

The hybrid detector, branded the NightHawk, can allegedly fail to notify consumers when the unit is no longer safe to operate. This means that under certain circumstances owners of the NightHawk may believe that their hybrid detector is working, when in fact, it is not functioning at all. Kidde believes that the problem may stem from owners inserting a replaceable 9V battery into the unit, which is meant to be hardwired directly into the home’s electricity.

Digital Security Smoke Alarm Recall

On March 22, 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Digital Security Controls of Toronto, Canada, announced a voluntary recall of approximately 32,000 Digital Security Controls FSA and FSB series smoke detectors. The defective smoke detectors were found to be unreliable in detecting smoke during a fire.

The recall affects all Digital Security Controls FSA and FSB series photo-electric smoke detectors that were installed in commercial and residential buildings from October 2006 through December 2006. The detectors are dome-shaped with a metal mesh outer covering and do not use a battery.

Customers are advised to immediately contact their installer to receive a free inspection and a possible free replacement smoke detector. The company can be contacted at 888-888-7838.

First Alert Fire Extinguisher Recall

On September 27, 2000, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and BRK Brands, Inc. announced a voluntary recall of approximately 600,000 First Alert household fire extinguishers, due to a failure of the extinguishers to discharge when the trigger is activated. The CPSC and BRK have received five reports of incidents involving a failure of the extinguishers to discharge in a fire.

The recall affects all First Alert extinguishers in red or white with model number FE1A10G. Only units with serial numbers beginning with RH, RK, RL, RP, RT, RU, or RW are affected by the recall. Units with a “100% Quality Tested” sticker on the label are not included in the recall. The extinguishers were sold in home centers, hardware stores, and mass merchandisers nationwide from September 1999 through September 2000.

Consumers are advised to contact First Alert immediately at 866-669-2736 or visit the First Alert Web site to receive a coupon for a replacement fire extinguisher.

First Alert Smoke Alarm Recall

On May 2, 2006, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and First Alert, Inc./BRK Brands, Inc.  announced a voluntary recall of approximately 145,890 First Alert ONELINK battery-powered smoke and combination smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms, citing a battery power defect. The defective units can drain battery power rapidly, causing premature low battery power and a potential failure of the unit to detect smoke or carbon monoxide if the battery failure is not noticed.

The CPSC and First Alert/BRK Brands have received more than 300 reports of premature battery power loss in the alarms. The units were sold in stores nationwide from June 2005 through March 2006.

The recall affects all ONELINK battery-powered smoke and combination smoke and CO alarms. The units have “First Alert” and “ONELINK” printed on the front, with model numbers SA500 or SCO500 on the back. Units with a date code prior to March 3, 2006 are included in the recall.

Consumers are advised to contact First Alert immediately at 800-323-9005 to receive a free replacement smoke alarm.

GE Security Smoke Alarm Recall

On December 22, 2004, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and GE Security, Inc. announced a voluntary recall of approximately 246,800 smoke detectors with certain control panels that can fail to activate during a fire or an emergency. The smoke detectors are incompatible with certain ITI control panels that are also included in the recall.

The recall affects hard-wired S10A ESL smoke detectors with the following model numbers printed on the back of the unit:

  • 429C
  • 429CT
  • 511C
  • 521B (when SW1 is OFF)
  • 521BXT (when SW1 is OFF)
  • 521NB
  • 521NBXT
  • 521NCSXT
  • 711U
  • 711UT
  • 721U
  • 721UT

The smoke detectors are incompatible with the following ITI control panel models:

  • Concord (with model numbers 60-734-01, 60-801, 60-801-01, 60-792-01-95R-16Z, 60-792-01-95R-32Z, 60-792-95R-32Z)
  • Advent (with model numbers 60-562-01 through 60-562-06
  • Concord Express (with model numbers 60-806-95R-16Z, 60-806-95R)

The units were sold by distributors, dealers, and installers of security systems nationwide from June 2002 through October 2004. The smoke detectors and control panels were sold either together or separately.

Consumers are advised to contact their system installer or service provider for information about obtaining a free repair or replacement to ensure their systems are functioning correctly. GE Security may be contacted at 800-648-7422.

Gamewell Fire Alarm Panel Recall

On April 9, 2008, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Gamewell-FCI announced a voluntary recall of approximately 2,000 Gamewell-FCI 7100 Series fire alarm control panels, due to a failure of the sounder on the main circuit board to alert users when there is a malfunction.

The recall affects all Gamewell-FCI 7100 Series fire alarm control panels with the following model numbers:

  • 1100-1312BK-7100-2D (Basic Systems Kit, with DACT, 2 SLC)
  • 1100-1314BK-7100-2D-240V (Bas. Sys. Kit, with DACT, 2 SLC, 240 VAC)
  • 1100-13527100 (Series Basic Systems Module, with DACT, 1 SLC)
  • 1100-12377100-1 (Addressable FACP with DACT, 1 SLC with cabinet)
  • 1100-1311BK-7100-2 (Basic Systems Kit, 2 SLC)
  • 1100-1313BK-7100-2-240V (Basic Systems Kit, 2 SLC, 240 VAC)
  • 1100-13517100 (Series Basic Systems Module, 1 SLC)
  • 1100-12387100-1 (Addressable System, 1 SLC with cabinet)

The control panels were sold by authorized distributors to commercial facilities such as hotels and office buildings from May 2007 through November 2007.

Gamewell-FCI will contact customers directly to provide a free repair kit, and the company can be reached at 800-274-4324 or online.

Smoke Alarms

Smoke alarms are designed to emit a loud, locally audible or visible signal from a wall or ceiling-mounted unit when smoke or fire is detected by that unit. The signal is intended to be disruptive enough to alert people of the need to evacuate the facility or home due to imminent danger.

The first smoke alarm was invented in 1890 by Francis Robbins Upton. It was not until the 1960s that households could benefit from an inexpensive version, and by the 1980s the latest models were becoming standard equipment in newly constructed homes and apartments. Now, 93 percent of American homes have smoke alarms installed.

There are two primary types of smoke alarms:

  • Photoelectric – Photoelectric smoke detectors optically sense smoke through use of sensitive light beams which are deflected by smoke, thus triggering an alarm for evacuation. These alarms work best when a very smoky fire is present.
  • Ionic – Ionic alarms are triggered through disruption of electrical current within the detector unit. The otherwise consistent current between two sensor plates is interrupted by smoke through its neutralization of ions within the chamber. When that current is absent, the alarm sounds.

Detectors are generally installed on ceilings or high on walls within inches of the ceiling, as both smoke and heat rise and will most effectively be detected by the alarm at the highest level of the room.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, residential smoke alarms should be installed on each level of the home, inside bedrooms, and just outside sleeping areas. But, each local or state government mandates very specific residential smoke detector placement and the fire marshal or building inspectors are always the best source regarding alarm regulations in a specific geographic area. When properly installed and working, smoke alarms offer the potential of escape from a deadly fire and reduce the risk of death by almost 50 percent.


Besides general failure due to faulty manufacture or improper installation, there are other causes of smoke alarm malfunction. The biggest and most basic concern is that of battery replacement. Homeowners often remove batteries due to a false alarm or fail to annually check functionality of existing batteries. Because they consist of electronic components, smoke detectors themselves do not age well. It is estimated by the National Fire Protection Association that standard smoke alarms require replacement every 10 years.

Beyond the battery and component longevity issues, each of the two main types of smoke alarms respond differently to emergency situations. Ionization alarms have been proven to respond better to flaming fire, yet perform below photoelectric alarms in situations of smoldering, smoky fires.

General Product Failure

According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are several major areas of vulnerability and defect in smoke alarms:

  • Children under the age of 16 sleep more deeply and for longer periods of deep sleep than adults and currently available alarms are not reliable for waking children younger than age 16
  • Seniors who are hearing impaired may not be reliably notified or alerted to wake in the event of a fire or smoke
  • Mobility, awareness and lack of hearing attribute to inability of seniors to react to smoke alarms
  • Home configurations may limit effectiveness of smoke alarm signals

According to the International Study of Sublethal Effects of Fire Smoke on Survivability and Health, somewhere between 310,000 and 670,000 people are exposed to smoke within their home environment each year. From these exposures, a confirmed average of 3,300 deaths and 11,500 injuries result. It is estimated that at least half of those deaths were incidences of smoke inhalation that would have not been lethal if the person had been removed from continued exposure.

The National Fire Protection Association reports that the fire death rate for Americans across all ages averages 10.3 deaths per million. For those over the age of 65, the death rate is over twice the average at 25.3 people per million. For those over age 75 years, the death rate increase to 32.9 deaths per million, three times the national average. Preschool children are also highly vulnerable, at 19.9 deaths per million.

Some examples of general product failure of smoke alarms include:

  • In November 1983, Electro Signal Lab, Inc of Rockland, Massachusetts recalled 500,000 of its smoke alarms due to malfunction and the alarms’ failure to properly alert during presence of smoke or fire.
  • In May 2000, Universal Security Instruments, Inc. of Owings Mills, Maryland recalled 34,000 smoke alarms due to their failure to properly operate in the presence of smoke or fire. The detectors became a hazard of their own, as a defective internal capacitor in affected units could burn out, release smoke and melt the alarm cover.
  • In May of 2006, approximately 146,000 First Alert® ONELINK™ Battery-Powered Smoke Alarms were recalled due to their rapid draining of batteries, rendering the alarms useless during emergency situations.
  • In 1977, MasterLock Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin recalled 32,000 smoke alarms due to one consumer complaint that the alarm was not functioning properly during a routine test. Resulting findings determined that internal device components were not properly cleansed after soldering during assembly.

Below are some examples of death, property damage, and injury legal actions arising from smoke alarm failures or the failure of home owners to ensure the detectors were present and operational:

  • In August of 1981, Stephen Butler and his family were awakened by the smell of smoke in their Western New York home. The home was heavily damaged although Butler, his wife, and children safely evacuated the burning structure. While firefighters were working to fight the fire, one of the home’s First Alert smoke detectors manufactured by Pittway Corporation finally started to sound its alarm. Only after the damage was done to the home and firefighters had already arrived did any of the alarms function. Stephen Butler pursued damages through the court system of the Western District of New York.
  • On December 27, 1976, the Albin Laaperi family suffered the death of three sons and serious injuries to their daughter due to burns over 12 percent of her body. Their Pittway Corporation smoke alarm sold by Sears and properly installed within the home was designed for electrical power only. When an electrical fire started while the family slept, the alarm failed to signal an alert as the lack of electricity due to the fire rendered the alarm useless. Laaperi’s complaint was that Sears did not properly notify him at the time of alarm purchase that the alarm would not function in the event of an electrical fire. In March 1986, the Laaperi family was awarded more than $1 million in their legal appeal against Sears for the death of their three sons.

Tyco Smoke Alarm Recall

On May 19, 2006, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Tyco Fire & Security announced a voluntary product safety recall of approximately 128,000 Tyco smoke detectors, citing a reduced sensitivity to smoke when the product is operated in conditions of high humidity and high temperature. This defect could cause the detector to be delayed in detecting smoke in the event of a fire.

The recall affects all Tyco Fire & Security smoke detectors distributed by SimplexGrinnell LP (Boca Raton, Florida), ADT Security Services, Inc. (Boca Raton, Florida), and Ansul, Inc. (Marinette, Wisconsin). The defective products were installed in commercial buildings in the U.S. after August 1, 2004.

The following model numbers are included in the recall:

  • 430559
  • 430560
  • 430562
  • 430695
  • 430696
  • 4098-9688C
  • 4098-9601C
  • 4098-9685C
  • 4098-9686C
  • 4098-9602C
  • 4098-9601EA
  • 4098-9601
  • 4098-9685
  • 4098-9686
  • 4098-9602
  • 4098-9687
  • 4098-9605
  • 4098-9688
  • T360-9001
  • T360-9002
  • T360-9003
  • T360-9935
  • T360-9936
  • ADT-3201
  • ADT-3202
  • ADT-3204
  • ADT-3205

Commercial building owners and managers who notice that their smoke detectors are included in the recall will be contacted by a distributor to receive a free replacement. Tyco Fire & Security can be contacted at 866-376-8207.

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