BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) is sounding the alarm about retailers selling smoke alarms that are not tested to national standards.
The transaction is not illegal, but senior fire officials said they could put your family at risk.
It can happen at a moment's notice. A fire breaks out. There's no time to grab anything or anyone. State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said it is a split second decision, even with a working smoke alarm in the home.
"If you're sleeping and a fire alarm goes off, you really only have about 60 seconds before the smoke traps you and disorients you," Browning said.
However, what if that alarm does not sound? There are hundreds of smoke detectors on the market. They are priced anywhere from $10 to $100. Shopping for one can be overwhelming, especially when people don't know what they are looking for.
Browning urges consumers to look beyond the price tag. What people find might save their lives. Just like many electronic products consumers buy, fire officials recommend that people buy one that has been tested by an independent company. Browning said not all of them are tested.
He said the said the ones that have been tested will be labeled with the letters ETL (Intertek) or UL (Underwriter's Laboratories). Both are certified testing labels. Browning said if it's not there, buyers could be taking a big risk.
Browning said the stores that are selling them are not doing anything illegal, but what people do with them after they purchase the smoke alarms could pose problems.
"There are fire codes that say once you install them in a building, they have to be certified. They take on a great civil risk if they allow these things to happen," Browning said.
The Investigators tagged along with a couple of fire marshal inspectors as they visited several flood-damaged rental properties that are now in the rebuilding phase.
Captain Lorre Duhe removed the alarm and checked for the label. The Kidde had a UL label as did the others she checked.
"I know that the laboratory has tested it. It's legitimate," Duhe said.
While Dwayne Duhler, the maintenance manager at Monterrey Townhomes, is installing the correct certified alarms, he admitted he never really looks for a label. However, he said he will be looking the next time he purchases new ones.
The inspectors also checked a FEMA manufactured housing unit.
"It's a pre-wired, ETL. First alert. Very good," Duhe said.
The Investigators also went with the fire marshals into a few local stores to take a look at the smoke alarms for sale. Brookstown Hardware sells the Fire Sentry brand.
"It is UL tested and approved by a third party. These are great," Duhe said.
Inspectors also checked with Goodwood Hardware and visited several big box stores including Target, Walmart, Lowes, and Home Depot. While they say they did not see any uncertified alarms on the shelves, Browning said some online stores like Safety Supplies City are selling them online.
"They are not certified and do not even come close to meeting the rigorous standards of what we test consumer smoke alarms to," Browning said. "You can go to the internet and you can find these."
NASFM is working with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to have at least three brands of smoke alarms banned. They include Arikon, Bovon, and X-Sense. Browning, who is president of the NASFM, said well-known online mega-retailers Amazon and eBay have already done so.
However, a quick Google search revealed consumers can still purchase them from other online stores.
"Look at this (Bovon). $47. Valued at $80," Browning showed The Investigators.
A quick look at the specifications shows the alarm is not certified, and when The Investigators compared it to the Kidde brand which is certified, we found the Bovon cost nearly twice as much.
"It's almost twice the price of a tested 10-year long life you'd buy at a local store here in Louisiana, at first glance looks like a deal," Browning said.
Browning said there is no telling how many people have bought uncertified alarms.
"And I suspect those people live in Louisiana," Browning said.
While Browning has requested a list of shoppers who bought them, he is also looking at making Louisiana the first state to have a law that would make it illegal to install and sell uncertified smoke alarms. In the meantime, he is urging everyone to double check.
"You need to go to it right now, detach it from the ceiling and look on the back, and look for that certification, and if the sticker is not there, it's not certified," Browning said.
The Investigators reached out to X-sense, Arikon, Bovon, and Safety Supplies City, but they have not returned our calls or responded to our emails.