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Tennessee Fire Marshal shares warning of potentially unsafe smoke alarm devices

From Staff Reports

The Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) joins the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) in issuing an advisory to consumers about the online purchase of certain smoke alarms.  

NASFM, an association whose principal membership comprises the senior fire officials in the United States and their top deputies, is asking Amazon, the country’s largest online retailer, to stop the sale of smoke alarms that are not tested to nationally-recognized standards. NASFM is also asking the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to take action to ensure consumers are protected and purchasing safe products.

“Smoke alarms are crucial safety devices that should be a part of every home,” said Gary West, Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance Deputy Commissioner for Fire Prevention. “The thorough review process of recognized independent testing laboratories helps ensure alarms will perform properly. Care must be taken to ensure safety products bought online meet established national standards.”

According to the SFMO, the products in question are smoke alarms that do not carry the testing labels from a nationally recognized third party testing laboratory such as Underwriter Laboratories (UL) or Intertek/ETL – the two largest independent safety testing companies for electrical products.  Smoke alarms sold in the United States are sent to UL or Intertek/ETL for testing and review. The companies test smoke alarms in accordance to the UL 217 standard, the industry-accepted standard. Products with these marks are evidence that the smoke alarm has been independently tested and found in compliance with the standard. Products not tested to this standard may not accurately detect fire, alarm the consumer in a timely fashion, and operate for the desired time period or other critical functions.

NASFM identified several smoke alarm brands lacking third party testing laboratory marks on Amazon including: X-Sense, Arikon and Bovon.

“We are asking the CPSC to investigate this matter and urge Amazon and other online retailers to stop selling smoke alarms and other fire safety products that do not carry the UL or ETL marks, or marks from another third party that has tested the alarms to the UL 217 standard,” said NASFM President Butch Browning. “We are also asking that retailers review their smoke alarm products and remove any non-listed products from their websites immediately.”                                                                                 

The importance of having working smoke alarms is a point that has been well-proven with the SFMO’s “Get Alarmed, Tennessee! ”program. The program is responsible for over 100,000 smoke alarms (tested to the UL 217 standard) being distributed to fire service partners who work to install them statewide. Over 100 Tennesseans have been saved from potential fire danger due to the program which launched in 2012.

The SFMO reminds Tennesseans of the following guidelines regarding smoke alarms:

  • Install at least one smoke alarm on every level of the home, including the basement. For best protection, smoke alarms should be installed inside and outside sleeping rooms. Make sure everyone can hear the alarm and knows what it sounds like.
  • People who are hard-of-hearing or deaf can use specialty alarms. These alarms have strobe lights and bed shakers.
  • Install smoke alarms away from the kitchen to prevent nuisance alarms. Generally, they should be at least 10 feet from a cooking appliance.
  • For the best protection, equip your home with a combination of ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms or dual-sensor alarms. Interconnect the alarms so that when one sounds, they all sound.
  • Smoke alarms with non-replaceable (long-life) batteries are available and are designed to remain effective for up to 10 years. If the alarm chirps on these units, warning that the battery is low, replace the entire smoke alarm right away.
  • For smoke alarms with any other type of battery, replace batteries at least once a year (preferably twice a year during daylight saving time). If that alarm chirps, replace only the battery.
  • Remember, even alarms that are hard-wired into your home electrical system need to have their battery back-ups maintained in case of electrical power outage.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning to keep smoke alarms working well. The instructions are included in the package or can be found on the internet.
  • Test alarms once a month using the test button. Replace the entire alarm if it’s more than 10 years old or fails to sound when tested.
  • Devise a fire escape plan with two ways out of every room and a designated outside meeting place. Share and practice the plan with all who live in the home, including children.
  • When a smoke alarm sounds, get out of the home immediately and go to your pre-planned meeting place to call 911.

For more information on making your home fire-safe, download and print the State Fire Marshal’s home fire safety checklist found at https://www.tn.gov/assets/entities/commerce/attachments/HomeFireSafetyChecklist.pdf.