Firm illegally certifies fire extinguishers, DOT says

The problem is not uncommon; officials estimate it happens at least several times a year countrywide
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Tuesday, February 1, 2005

WEST BUXTON, Me. - A southern Maine fire equipment company is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Transportation after it was discovered that the firm illegally certified high-pressure carbon dioxide fire extinguishers.

Statewide Fire Equipment, located here, used Retester Identification Numbers issued to at least four companies located locally and elsewhere in the country. The company is accused of not only illegally using other companies license numbers to certify the extinguishers but also failing to perform any tests at all.

The investigation was launched last summer, when a licensed RIN facility questioned the authenticity of a number of cylinders bearing its RIN number.

After the unnamed company checked its records, it determined that it neither tested nor certified the extinguishers. It then notified the DOT’s research and special program’s administration.

“I looked into it and found exactly what (the company) told me,” according to Anthony Lima, senior hazardous materials enforcement specialist, eastern region, for the federal agency.

Statewide Fire Equipment could not be reached for comment.

Lima said there are approximately 3,000 active retesters in the United States, and this type of problem is not uncommon. In fact, his office, which covers the territory between Virginia and Maine, often receives similar complaints.

“Unfortunately, it happens at least a couple times a year,” he said.

Lima believes Statewide fraudulently stamped fire extinguishers as far back as 1995. The investigation is expected to last at least another six months Lima said, but he would not comment if any criminal charges would be handed down to the company’s owner.

AAA Fire Extinguisher Co., based in Auburn, Me., was one of the companies whose RIN number was used illegally by Statewide.

“They used to bring their cylinders here and we would test them,” said John Jalbert, owner of the company. “But, that was a long-time ago.”

Other RIN numbers that Statewide used were traced to Westbrook, Me. office of Simplex Grinnell, Edina, Minn.-based J.N. Johnson Sales & Service and Orange, Calif.-based Orange County Fire Protection.

Both Lima and Jalbert said the risk level that any of the falsely certified extinguishers would explode or cause any harm at all is low for any cylinders that might have been stamped but not tested by Statewide. Jalbert has offered to pick up any fire extinguishers in the state of Maine that bears his company’s RIN number and test them.