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Fire marshal warns residents of smoke detector scheme

December 04, 1998|By MARLO BARNHART

During the Christmas season, buyers need to beware, even when trying to equip their homes with adequate fire protection, authorities warn.

Hagerstown Fire Marshal Tom Brown recently became aware of a situation in which an 80-year-old city resident signed a contract to have installed in her home three smoke detectors and four heat detectors at a cost of $2,000.

To make matters worse, the purchase was financed at a high interest rate, which means the bottom line cost will exceed $3,000, Brown said.

Brown said the woman overpaid to the tune of more than $2,900 for the fire protection.

"For the average two-story house with top-of-the-line fire protection, five smoke detectors would be sufficient - at a cost of just $60 or so total," Brown said.

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He said smoke detectors are available at any home improvement store and are easily installed by amateurs.

Brown said the fire code in Maryland doesn't require heat detectors and indeed, Brown said they are not recommended.

"By the time heat detectors activate, a person is already dead from smoke inhalation," Brown said.

Contacted by a family member of the woman, Brown said he checked out the company that sold the units and found they committed no fraud. But he said he has referred information about the company to the Maryland Attorney General's office to determine if it is targeting the elderly or making misleading claims.

"I want people to know how to handle unsolicited inquiries from companies selling fire protection equipment," Brown said. "They need to be good shoppers."

He suggested people:

* Ask for a written estimate.

* Don't sign a contract until checking other companies for prices.

* Call the Hagerstown Fire Department for information on what type of fire protection is best. That number is 301-790-2476.

Anyone needing a smoke detector installed can call the Hagerstown Fire Department or the volunteer fire company in their neighborhood and often, a free detector will be provided and installed, Brown said.

The City of Hagerstown provided and installed between 400 to 500 smoke detectors free of charge last year, Brown said.

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