Millions of Defective Fire Sprinkler Heads Recalled in 2001 Are Still Being Used In Hospitals, Schools, Nursing Homes, and Other Buildings Nationwide

According to a report in USA Today, “almost two-thirds” of some 35 million potentially defective fire sprinkler heads recalled in 2001 remain in service in “nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and other buildings.”

The original voluntary recall and replacement program was announced on July 19, 2001 by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and Central Sprinkler Company, an affiliate of Tyco Fire Products LP, of Lansdale, Pennsylvania.

Under that program, the company agreed to “provide free parts and labor to replace 35 million Central fire sprinklers with O-ring seals. The program also includes a limited number of O-ring models sold by Gem Sprinkler Company and Star Sprinkler, Inc. totaling about 167,000 sprinkler heads.”

Central initiated this action because it discovered the performance of a high percentage of these O-ring sprinklers can degrade over time. These sprinkler heads can corrode or minerals, salts and other contaminants in water can affect the rubber O-ring seals.

These factors could cause the sprinkler heads not to activate in a fire. Central agreed to provide newer fire sprinklers that do not use O-ring seals. At that time this was “the third largest replacement program in CPSC history.”

“I am pleased that Central is voluntarily undertaking this major program proactively to replace sprinklers nationwide and protect consumers from the risk of fire,” said then CPSC Chairman Ann Brown.

Central planned to provide free of charge replacement sprinkler heads and the labor needed to replace the sprinklers. Central also would arrange for the installation by using either its own Central Field Service crews or by contracting with professional sprinkler contractors.

This replacement program included two kinds of sprinklers, “wet” and “dry.” “Wet” sprinklers are installed in piping that is filled with water. “Dry” sprinklers are used in areas that may be exposed to very cold temperatures and the exposed piping does not contain water.

At that time Central had received 4 reports of “wet” sprinklers failing to activate during a fire and 9 similar reports on “dry” sprinklers. These incidents resulted in two property damage claims against Central.

The sprinklers were installed nationwide in a wide variety of buildings, including houses, apartments, hospitals, day care facilities, schools, dormitories, nursing homes, supermarkets, parking garages, warehouses, and office buildings.

Central manufactured 33 million “wet” sprinklers with O-rings from 1989 until 2000 that were covered by this program. Central also manufactured 2 million “dry” sprinklers with O-rings from the mid-1970’s to June 2001 that are covered by this program.

The program also covered 167,000 sprinklers with O-rings manufactured by Gem Sprinkler Co. and Star Sprinkler Inc. from 1995 to 2001

The fire sprinkler heads have the words “CENTRAL” or “STAR”, the letters “CSC”, the letter “G” in triangle, or a star-shaped symbol stamped on either the metal sprinkler frame or on the deflector.

The model designation and date may also be stamped on the frame or deflector. The deflector is the flower, or gear-shaped metal piece at one end of the sprinkler head. The recalled models are as follows:

AFFECTED MODELS CENTRAL “WET” SPRINKLERS
(Manufactured from 1989-2001

GB

GB4-FR

GB-R1

BB2

ELOC

ELO-GB QR

GB-J

GB4-EC

GB-RS

BB3

ESLO

LD

GB-1

GB4-QREC

GB-R

SD1

ELO SW-20

K17-231

GB-ALPHA

GB-20

ROC

SD2

ELO SW-24

Ultra K17

GB4

GB-20 QR

BB1 17/32

SD3

ESLO-20 GB

ELO-16 GB

GB-QR

GB-LO

BB2 17/32

HIP

ELO-231 GB

GB MULTI-LEVEL

GBR-2

LF

BB3 17/32

WS

ELO-GB

GB-QR MULTI-LEVEL

GB-EC

GBR

BB1

ELO-LH

ELO-231 GBQR

ELO-16 GB FR

CENTRAL “DRY” SPRINKLERS (Manufactured from Mid-1970s-2001

A-1

GB

GB4-EC

ELO-16 GB

H-1

GB-QR

GB4-QREC

ELO-16 GB FR

J

GB4

ELO-231 GB

K

GB4-FR

ELO-GB QR

GEM “WET” SPRINKLERS (Sold under Gem name from 1995-2001)

F927

STAR “DRY” SPRINKLERS (Manufactured from 1996-1998)

ME-1

SG

SG-QR

Q

Q-QR

On May 23, 2003, the CPSC and Central issued an “Update” of the recall that was described as a “modification.” The following language was added to the recall and replacement program:

“Central is providing free of charge replacement sprinkler heads and the labor needed to replace the sprinklers. As before, Central will arrange for the installation by using either its own Central Field Service crews or by contracting with professional sprinkler contractors. Now, consumers can arrange to have the free replacement sprinklers installed themselves rather than waiting for Central to arrange for installation. Subject to certain conditions, including advance notice to Central, verification of the replacements and return of the removed sprinklers, Central will provide either full or partial reimbursement for labor charges.”

Building and homeowners were urged to check their fire sprinklers immediately to see if they are part of this voluntary replacement program.

For more information on how to identify sprinklers subject to this program and to learn how to participate in this program, consumers were told to call the Notice Packet Request Line at 1-800-871-3492 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or access the program’s web site at www.SprinklerReplacement.com

Although the recall has been in effect for almost 4 years, over 23 million (of the 35 million recalled) remain are still being used in fire sprinkler systems are across the country. Twelve million have been replaced and 6 million more are to be replaced by the middle of 2007.

The recall, which is still the fourth largest in CPSC history, is considered to be going “extremely well” in light of the number of items involved.

According to USA Today: “But Tyco Fire & Building Products, the sprinklers’ manufacturer, says there have been several claims of property damage. Virginia, Ohio, New York, New Jersey and Washington are among the states trying to identify facilities still using the sprinklers, the National Association of State Fire Marshals reports.”

And, while millions of these defective sprinkler heads either have been replaced or have been targeted for replacement, “Many fire marshals think more can be done. Replacing 30% to 40% of the faulty sprinklers ‘is not acceptable,’ says Emory Rodgers, deputy chief of Virginia’s Division of Building and Fire Regulation, which aims to get 90% of the sprinklers replaced. ‘People’s lives could depend on it.’”

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