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Homes threatened by faulty fire sprinklers

Thousands of Washington apartment homes and hotels may be vulnerable to fire. As many as 500,000 fire sprinkler heads in the state may be defective, according to the Washington State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Central Sprinkler Company, an affiliate of Tyco Fire Products, started a voluntary replacement program in July 2001 to replace 35 million “O-ring” style heads nationwide free of charge for property owners. The program ends on Aug. 31. Although the program is ending, about 500,000 of the 1.3 million sprinkler heads that were installed in schools, hotels, apartments, homes and commercial buildings remain unaccounted for.

If property owners do not use the program, they will be required by law to replace the sprinkler heads at an estimated cost of $50-75 per device.

The recalled sprinkler heads were blamed for at least two fires in the state. The “O-ring” heads have a flat circular ring at the base, while the safer “Belleville bottom” heads are cone-shaped. Sixty-five different models were included in the recall and some heads may be concealed with a ceiling plate, making it difficult to identify defective sprinklers. The State Fire Marshal’s office will help property owners determine if their sprinkler heads were included in the recall. For assistance, call 1-866-977-7366.

An amendment to the International Fire Code became state law on July 1 and requires property owners to replace any fire protection system that part of a voluntary or mandatory recall and to notify fire officials in writing of the replacement.

Property owners who submit claims before the Aug. 31 deadline may still need to wait up to two years for the free replacements due to the large number of claims that have yet to be processed.

More information about the recall and claims procedures can be found on Tyco’s Web site at www.sprinklerreplacement.com.

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