"Dead smoke alarms are as good as no smoke alarm at all," Weller said.
According to Weller, the lithium-operated detectors are guaranteed to last 10 years without new batteries, and unlike the 9-volt units, the new casings are extremely difficult to remove. Unit features include a hush button, meaning the alarm can be silenced if it's been activated accidentally by steam from a shower or other harmless sources.
The new units retail for $30, about six times more than a 9-volt version, Weller said.
Weller said the campaign was prompted by a spike in significant fires causing damage to rental units where 9-volt-battery alarms are often found missing or disabled.
"There's so many rentals (where) we go in and put in a new smoke detector and a month later, we can go in - or even the fire department can go in - and those are dismantled," said Allan Johnson, president of the Landlords and Property Owners Association of Washington County.
Johnson said he fully supports Weller's education campaign, and he believes landlords will stand behind a safety contract drawn up by the fire department.
Through a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the fire department will furnish the lithium detectors to landlords of buildings with three or fewer units.
The landlords must enforce a contract with tenants spelling out rules for the use of candles, extension cords, heaters and stoves. According to the contract provided by the fire department, fines of $500 will be imposed on anyone who intentionally disables a smoke alarm.
According to Weller, all 10 of the fires that damaged at least one room of a building in January and February this year occurred at rental properties. Causes included unattended cooking or candles, and children playing with matches or lighters.
Landlords who are interested in the program should contact Weller by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by calling 301-739-8577, ext. 415.