Fire marshals say sprinkler recall too slow

Thursday, March 9, 2006

WASHINGTON--A recall of fire sprinkler heads that began in 2001 and is proceeding "exceedingly well" according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and some others in the fire industry, is back in the news.
Not satisfied with the progress of the recall, National Association of State Fire Marshals president James Burns on Feb. 14 sent a letter to three Tyco executives asking the company to "rapidly accelerate the replacement of recalled sprinklers." It also asks Tyco to support NASFM's efforts to change fire codes to require more passive fire protection such as fire walls.
Further, the letter proposes a meeting between Burns and the Tyco executives--David Robinson, president of Tyco Fire and Security, William Lytton, executive vice president and general counsel of Tyco International, and Naren K. Gursahaney, senior vice president of operational excellence--to "candidly discuss the challenges we collectively face."
In 2001, laboratory testers discovered that 20-to-45 percent of rubber O-rings in certain sprinkler valves could corrode and prevent the flow of water. There were as many as 35 million sprinkler heads with this perceived defect already installed, manufactured by three companies--Central, Star and Gem--all owned by Tyco Fire and Buildings Products. Tyco began the voluntary recall in 2001.
Tyco executives did not return calls by press time. However, reports say that Tyco has replaced 12 million sprinkler heads and identified six million more to be replaced within the next 15 months. Tyco supplies replacement heads and labor free of charge.
No deaths have been associated with the recalled sprinklers. However, there have been claims of product damage from the sprinklers.
Julie Vallese, director of public affairs for Consumer Product Safety Commission, said the recall is the fourth largest in the agency's history. "The rate of replacement of defective sprinkler heads is going extremely well," she said. "I think the rate of replacement is ahead of what was anticipated," Vallese added.
Calls to John Burns of NASFM were not returned before press time. John Viniello, president of the National Fire Sprinkler Association, said his group is "absolutely in disagreement with the NASFM," particularly on its suggestion that fire codes should be changed.
"In 100 years, there has never been a person killed in a sprinklered building. Why all of the sudden, because of a potential death, should we put passive fire protection requirements back in the codes?" he said.
"They can't point to one instance where someone has died in a sprinklered building," Viniello said. Changing the codes would "increase the cost of building and put the onus on the builder when they already have a safe building with the sprinklers. Why do they need all the other elements?" he said.
See the April issue of Security Systems News for more on this story, including comments from Tyco.