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NC5 Investigates: An Alarming Failure

Fire Dept. Gives Away Questionable Detectors

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The Metro Fire Department announced a program designed to get 1,500 ionization smoke detectors into homes that do not have detectors. Studies show that ionization detectors have problems detecting smoke. The Metro Fire Department announced a program designed to get 1,500 ionization smoke detectors into homes that do not have detectors. Studies show that ionization detectors have problems detecting smoke.
Metro Nashville Fire Chief Steve Halford Metro Nashville Fire Chief Steve Halford
After seeing a NewsChannel 5 investigation about ionization detectors, Chief Halford proposed changing the law in Nashville to ban ionization smoke detectors. After seeing a NewsChannel 5 investigation about ionization detectors, Chief Halford proposed changing the law in Nashville to ban ionization smoke detectors.

A house fire in West Nashville today killed a four year old girl. And this comes just two weeks after another house fire killed a nine month old boy.

In both fires, investigators couldn't find a smoke detector.

So this afternoon, the Nashville Fire department announced it will give away detectors to anyone in Davidson County who needs one.

But the type of detector they're handing out may not protect your family.

Consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus first exposed the differences in smoke detectors last year. And she had some tough questions today for the fire chief.

For the last nine months, NewsChannel 5 Investigates has been showing you how photoelectric smoke detectors do a much better job than ionization detectors at detecting smoke. Yet, Metro is now giving away ionization detectors. We went to ask the chief why.

Metro Fire Chief Steve Halford says he wants to save lives. And, Thursday afternoon, he showed off some 1,500 smoke detectors his department is now giving away.

Kraus asks the chief at a news conference called to announce the new giveaway program, "These 1,500 detectors you're giving away, what kind are they?"

Halford's answer, "These are ionization detectors."

But as a NewsChannel 5 investigation first revealed, ionization detectors have trouble detecting smoke. Some fire experts say all too often these detectors don't give people enough warning. And, tragically, by the time they finally do go off, it's often too late.

That prompted Kraus to ask the fire chief, "So why give away an inferior product?"

Halford replied, "There's no evidence that's been presented that ionizations are inferior."

Yet test after test, including one by NewsChannel 5, has shown that another type of detector which uses photoelectric technology is much better at detecting smoke, which is what tends to kill more people than actual flames.

Even Metro's Fire Marshal Danny Hunt who took part in our test was shocked by how poorly the ionization detector detected smoke.

Immediately after observing our test, Hunt told NewsChannel 5, "I think it's extremely important especially to replace these detectors and replacing them with the correct type could very well save hundreds of lives."

At the news conference, Chief Halford acknowledged the NewsChannel 5 investigation saying, "Your channel has done an excellent job talking about the best type of smoke detector."

In fact, after seeing our stories earlier this year, Chief Halford himself proposed changing the law in Nashville to essentially ban ionization detectors.

And even now, he's still a strong proponent of the dual detectors. He told reporters at the news conference, "We think the smoke detector that has both technologies will be better."

Yet, here the fire department is giving away ionization detectors.

The chief defends the program saying an ionization detector is better than no detector at all. But he admits his first choice would be a dual.

He goes on to say, "Followed by photoelectric and followed by ionization."

At that point, Kraus asked him, "So this (ionization detectors) is number three on your list?"

Halford's response, "This is number three in terms of people replacing their smoke detectors. But, if a person has no smoke detector, these are certainly life-savers.

The chief says the detectors they're giving away are ones they already had.

Yet, more than a year ago, the fire department received a $50,000 grant to buy detectors to hand out.  The chief now says they will use that money for dual detectors. But, he told us that same thing nearly six months ago.

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