Consumer Reports: Smoke Alarm Defect

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Duracell battery and an older model BRK First Alert smoke detector; together they are a potentially explosive combination. But while the manufacturer of this smoke alarm and federal safety officials are well aware of the issue, they have made little attempt to warn consumers.

Dennis Higman puts a high priority on safety and takes precautions recommended by fire prevention experts. "We change the batteries every six months." But Dennis says just two weeks after he changed the backup battery in one of his hard-wired smoke detectors. Something terrifying happened. "This is the smoke detector that started beeping, it was Friday night and I took the battery down. The battery was warm, I set it on the dresser right here." "Me and my wife were standing there and we hear like a kkkk and we hear something hit the wall and land at our feet" It was a cylinder from the battery that had been inside the BRK smoke detector. Dennis Higman/Marlton, New Jersey: "And then a couple minutes later, I hear it again I hear kkkk." The battery had exploded. "I was like terrified; I just couldn't believe that anything like that could ever happen." But what happened next made Dennis angry.

The customer service representatives he talked to for both Duracell and First Alert were well aware of the problem but he said they didn't seem concerned. "And she proceeded to tell me you can't use Duracell batteries in a BRK4120B smoke detector because they were known to expand and explode." "I mean there's probably hundreds or thousands of people who have this battery in this smoke detector right now." BRK claims the issue does not constitute a defect.

The company tells Action News there has been a rare occasion that a battery in the model 4120b smoke alarm, under certain conditions, has bulged and slightly overheated. This was fully evaluated by Underwriters Laboratories and the consumer product safety commission and identified that this is not a safety issue. Beth McConnell/PennPIRG: "I think it's outrageous to say a battery exploding in a smoke detector is not a safety issue." Duracell tells us their battery isn't the problem but that the BRK model 4120 may malfunction due to the design of the battery cavity, causing the battery to overcharge.

BRK first alert says the 4120b was redesigned after 2000. "You know clearly we rely on these smoke detectors to save us in the event of a fire." BRK First Alert has posted a notice on its website that says: when consumers replace the batteries in models 4120b and 4120sb, manufactured prior to October 2000, the recommended replacement batteries are the Eveready batteries numbered 1222 or 522. "That's inadequate and the company and the CPSC need to do a better job." Dennis agrees and says he's come forward in hopes of getting the word out.

So check your smoke detector and the batteries inside. If it is a BRK 4120B manufactured between 1998 and October of 2000, replace the batteries inside with Eveready batteries number 1222 or 522.

Also, fire officials recommend you replace your smoke detector every 10 years.

And again, we do not want to discourage you from having smoke alarms. Their use has slashed home fire deaths in half.

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