COMPANY Replacing Fire Sprinklers

Wednesday, July 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Millions of fire sprinklers in buildings across America are being replaced because they might not work properly during fires, the manufacturer said Wednesday.

Central Sprinkler Co., which is owned by Tyco International Ltd., is providing free replacements for the defective sprinklers, said L. Dennis Kozlowski, Tyco's chief executive. The company discovered the older sprinkler heads have O-ring seals that can corrode, he said.

``We immediately shared our concerns with the authorities,'' Kozlowski said. ``These are not defective heads and this deterioration takes place over a very long period of time.''

The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the company plan to announce the replacement program Thursday, Kozlowski said during a conference call with reporters.

The safety commission would not comment on the recall.

The recall includes more than 30 million sprinklers and many of the sprinklers are of the GB _ or glass-bulb _ model or variety, USA Today reported Wednesday.

Last year, Chicago-based Underwriters Laboratories, the country's largest testing organization, found that some glass-bulb sprinklers produced by Central Sprinkler leaked and failed to work at required water pressures. The testing organization recommended at the time that the sprinklers be replaced.

Brad McGee, a Tyco senior vice president, said at the time it was too early to consider a recall or replacement of the sprinkler.

Glass-bulb sprinklers contain alcohol or another liquid in a bulb mounted on the sprinkler head. Heat rising from a fire expands the liquid, causing the glass to shatter. That releases the sprinkler's plug and allows water onto the fire. An O-ring seal keeps the plug from leaking.

Underwriters Laboratories observed crystallized deposits or corrosion around the rubber seal, which indicated leaking water. The sprinkler model recently was redesigned with a metal seal.

About 15 percent of the 135 sample sprinkler heads tested did not operate at a water pressure of 5 pounds per square inch, the pressure at which sprinklers are required to operate in order to earn an Underwriters Laboratories listing. The heads also failed to operate at 7 psi, the pressure required by National Fire Protection Association standards.

Water pressure in most buildings exceeds 7 psi, but some Model GB heads tested by Underwriters Laboratories did not operate, even at 60 psi, which exceeds the water pressure available in some buildings, including houses.

In 1998, Central Sprinkler, of Landsdale, Pa., recalled 8.4 million Omega brand fire sprinklers because they could fail in a fire. Omegas have failed to activate in about 20 fires since 1990, causing injuries and millions of dollars in property damage, the CPSC said at the time.

The Omega sprinklers at the time were installed in buildings across the country including the U.S. Capitol, the Smithsonian Institution museums and the White House, the safety commission said.