Fire protection systems being sold for $1,500 to $2,500 have state fire officials concerned because of the price and because of complaints from residents.
Fire chiefs and the state fire marshal have also received numerous complaints about pushy salesmen who use scare tactics to sell the expensive systems and complaints in Logan that salesmen have told homeowners they were with the fire department.Information on fire safety taught in homes by some sales representatives is also confusing children because it contradicts fire programs taught in schools, said Capt. John Blundell, West Valley City fire marshal.
But Randy Covert, the president of Mountain Safety in South Salt Lake, one of the companies under attack, labeled the fire officials as "a different breed of people" who are giving his firm a bad time because "they begrudge us of making a profit."
Mountain Safety sells systems that, for about $2,000 include one or two battery-operated smoke alarms, five heat-actuated alarms, two portable escape lights and an infrared motion detector. The smoke detectors carry a 25-year guarantee, and the heat detectors are guaranteed for the life of the purchaser, Covert said.
Blundell said smoke is more of a problem than heat, which is one reason smoke detectors have been required in all homes built since 1974. Blundell said he has no reason to believe the heat detectors sold by Mountain Safety and other companies don't do what they're supposed to, but inexpensive smoke alarms provide an adequate level of protection, he said. Individuals who want protection above what a smoke detector provides would be better off investing in a sprinkling system, Blundell said.
Mountain Safety's smoke detectors are not sold separately but would cost between $250 and $300 if they were. The smoke detectors rated best by Consumer Report magazine cost $20 to $40 and carry one-year guarantees, according to a reprinted page of the magazine Covert showed the Deseret News.
Smoke detectors are the best fire safety device that has come along in a long time, said state Fire Marshal Lynn Borg, but he believes a home can be adequately protected for less than $50. Borg said there is concern that high-pressure sales tactics might convince people to pay much more than is needed for adequate fire protection, or that sales pitches might turn individuals away from buying any smoke alarm.
Covert and John Treve, Mountain Safety's vice president, said their company has had only one unresolved complaint through the Better Business Bureau since the firm started doing business in February 1987.
Borg said Mountain Safety is named in many of several thousand complaints relayed to his office during the past six months. Those complaints are now being referred to the state Consumer Protection Division, which is conducting an investigation, he said.
Treve rejected that the claim, saying his telephone marketing sales people haven't made successful contacts with enough people for there to be that many complaints had each contact complained. The company is, however, selling approximately 100 of its systems each month, Covert said, which indicates a number of consumers must think the product is worth the price.
Covert added, "If they had that many (complaints), the attorney general would be knocking on my door."
Borg said he has not been able to meet with anyone from Mountain Safety. Covert said any fire official is welcome in his office to see what his company is offering, but no specific invitations have been extended, and the company's only meeting was with Sandy's fire chief.
The complaints to the fire marshal have come from St. George to Logan, and the problem was discussed at the Tuesday meeting of the state Fire Marshall's Association in Salt Lake City.
Covert said his company has no operations south of Utah county.
Blundell said concern about the price of the heat detectors is accompanied by concern about the impact sales presentations have on school-children, because the presentations vary from those taught in schools.
Blundell said 90 percent of the people who die in house fires are overcome by smoke and carbon monoxide that are lighter than air and fill a room from the top down. Children are taught in school to crawl along the floor to avoid the smoke and gas.
"There are some toxic gases on the floor," Borg said, "But a lot more are higher. It's those gases that kill people."
Borg said he has burned more than 100 houses around the state in training exercises. "I've crawled all over inside them on the floor and I'm fine. But if I would have stood up, it would have killed me."
Covert and Trave said they and the fire officials are both right in their presentations, but the company has slightly modified its presentation so it does not conflict with the program taught in public schools.