Earlier this month, nearly half a million Walter Kidde Portable Equipment Company Inc. ("Kidde") brand smoke alarms were recalled because they had the potential to fail at their sole purpose.
What's Wrong With the Smoke Alarms?
According to a recall reported by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) roughly 500,000 smoke detectors were manufactured and distributed with a small yellow protective cap covering one or possibly both of their internal smoke sensors. With those sensors covered, the detectors may be unable to detect smoke in their surroundings, rendering them basically useless.
The recalled products have been manufactured and sold since September 2016 through a variety of online and brick-and-mortar outlets such as Home Depot, Walmart, Amazon.com, and the company's own ShopKidde.com website. They (and we) are extremely lucky that so far no one has reported injuries from being caught in a fire they didn't know was happening until it was already unquenchable. With half a million of these possible duds in circulation, their manufacturing flaw could still have dire consequences.
What Can I Do About This?
The gist of Kidde's remedy plan as reported by the CPSC is to replace the faulty units. Keep in mind that only specific models of detector are affected, so it's probably wise to verify which one is on your wall. When you have a few minutes to spare, follow these steps in order. If you reach one that doesn't apply, your detector is not part of the recall.
- Locate each smoke detector in your home and look for the "Kidde" brand name on the front. The specific models affected by the recall also have a distinctive "pill" shape on the unit's face.
- If you see the Kidde name and the pill shape, detach the smoke detector from the wall and check the labels on its back. The affected models are PI2010 and PI9010 and the affected dates are "2016 Sep. 10 through 2017 Oct. 13" for both models.
- If you have one of the two recalled models, look in the side of your unit for a yellow cap, visible through the holes around the detector. There's an example photo to the right courtesy of the CPSC.
- If the detector has a yellow cap inside it, Kidde strongly discourages trying to get it out. Despite the device's straightforward purpose, it involves some fairly delicate pieces (plus some models are wired directly into house current, which is dangerous to fiddle with). Rather than digging around in the detector, consumers are encouraged to contact Kidde directly to arrange for a replacement. They can do so in one of the following ways:
- Call Kidde's toll-free line at 833-551-7739 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time Mon-Fri, and from 9-3 Sat/Sun.
- Go to the company's home page and use the "Product Safety Recalls" button.
Kidde makes dozens of smoke detector models, and they're not the only name in the game. While the odds are against any one detector in North America being one of the affected products, it's better to be safe than sorry.
Speaking of "You Had One Job"...
A few months ago I had to write about different Kidde products with a stutter in their step. Millions of the company's fire extinguishers were found to clog and/or break at crucial moments (pretty much all moments are crucial when you're fighting fires). They, like the smoke detectors, were created for a single purpose. They don't order groceries, monitor your cholesterol, or play smooth jazz on request. They're meant to deal solely with dangerous fires--one alerts people to them, the other puts them out.
In a world where even small devices capably handle dozens of complex functions at once, I don't think it's wrong to expect an item designed for one thing to do that thing right every time. The more critical its function is to a consumer's ongoing well-being--for instance, preventing them from burning alive--the more rigorous the standard must be to which it is held.
By purchasing a Kidde smoke detector, the consumer who buys it enters an agreement with the manufacturer that the device will work as indicated, i.e. will detect the smoke that precedes a fire. Without providing the functionality that makes the detector worth purchasing, Kidde opens itself to the possibility of breach of warranty allegations. It's unlikely Kidde will suffer any legal backlash unless someone is (God forbid) injured or killed in a fire that should have been detected by the PI2010 or PI9010, but it's worth keeping in mind.
When I talk about having "one job" I don't just mean Kidde's products, but also the business itself. Home safety equipment is pretty much their entire product line. They've been at this since 1917, so by now one might think they'd have a solid handle on what does and doesn't work when constructing their wares. There may be a communications issue in their supply chain, since the flawed detectors weren't built by Kidde but rather imported from a Hong Kong manufacturer called "Fyrnetics Limited."
In fairness, this detector issue isn't entirely like the previous extinguisher one. Where that one involved products genuinely breaking and malfunctioning, this recall seems to involve a surplus piece that just shouldn't be there. Regardless, both were sold to trusting consumers by Kidde and the resultant products in both cases were unable to fulfill their sole functions.
If I only had one job and performing it well meant saving lives, you can bet I'd make sure that job was done flawlessly every single time. Faulty safety equipment can't reliably do its very important work, and maybe the company who made it isn't entirely reliable either.