CBS46 counterfeit smoke detector investigation yields results - CBS46 News

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CBS46 counterfeit smoke detector investigation yields results

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ATLANTA, GA (CBS46) -

An exclusive CBS46 News investigation forced the nationwide recall of more than 18,000 fake smoke detectors.  The Atlanta Fire Rescue Department unknowingly bought and handed out the counterfeit detectors to low-income, high-risk areas as part of a community outreach program. That was three years ago.

The Atlanta Fire Rescue chief said it would take two to three years to replace all of those fake smoke alarms. Reporter Jennifer Mayerle broke the story. She checked in on how the program is doing.

Atlanta firefighters are making house calls

"This is an added blessing for someone to stop by and just give free smoke alarms," Barbara Williams said.

They are canvassing neighborhoods for homes that received counterfeit smoke detectors.

"We're going door to door making sure everyone has smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors," a firefighter said.

It's an initiative the AFRD recommitted to in 2011. That's when CBS46 uncovered the department handed out more than 18,000 fake smoke detectors over a five-year period. The tell tale sign? A counterfeit UL label on the back. The fakes went to those at greatest risk in the city. The investigation led to a nationwide recall and an FBI investigation into a company run by felons that sold the fake smoke alarms.

"Those counterfeit smoke alarms really put our citizens in harms way. Fortunately for us, 46 broke the story and put us in a position to take the appropriate actions," Assistant Chief Bernard Coxton said.

Corporate sponsors donated thousands of dollars and new working smoke alarms so a replacement program could begin immediately. A federal grant for $475,000 allowed the department to buy the rest.

"To date we've replaced 13,121 of those alarms. We're real proud of the success and the strides that we've made. We still have a little ways to go," Coxton said.

While that number is far from 18,000, Coxton believes the department has reached 90 to 95 percent of the neighborhoods where the fake alarms were distributed. That's because some homes are vacant while others refused a smoke detector. Notes were left on doors where people aren't home.

"We've been very busy doing the right thing in making sure that our citizens have a good, proper working smoke alarm in their home," Coxton said.

Last year, a family of six was alerted and saved from a fire that devastated their home after one of the fake smoke alarms was replaced with a working smoke detector.

"That's what went off and that's why they woke up. That's what really saved them," neighbor Arvydas Didas said. 

It makes this grandmother thankful firefighters stopped by her grandkids' home.

"I'm glad they got to this one because it's five little guys here. Thank you for saving my family's life," said the woman.

CBS46 received the FBI file on the company which sold the fake smoke detectors. It's a file the station requested two years ago. The documents detail the FBI interviews with the owners of the company and names CBS46 as the station who reported the problem.  Unfortunately the feds can no longer prosecute. The owner of the company died.

If you think you have a counterfeit smoke detector, call the Smoke Alarm Hotline. That number is 404-546-2733 or send an email to smokealarm@atlantaga.gov.

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