IMAGE: CHAD CROWE
Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard championed a bill when he was a state representative in 1997 that established Oregon's smoke-alarm standards. All alarms sold in the state must include a 10-year battery and a "hush button" to temporarily disable the alarm-thereby eliminating the top two reasons smoke alarms fail: bad batteries and people yanking out good batteries to shut the damn alarm up.
Leonard saw the need for the statute during his 25 years as a firefighter. "I went to more homes than I care to remember where we had to take out victims who had died in fires," Leonard says. "We asked ourselves how we could design alarms that eliminate the incentive to remove the batteries."
But an alarm found on Wal-Mart's shelves, First Alert model SA304CN3, had no hush feature and was powered by a single 9-volt battery that, according to Fire Inspector Stew White, can fail in less than a year. With no backup power source, only vigilant hitting of the "test" key stands between dead batteries and disaster.
Those seeking an explanation get sent to Wal-Mart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., where spokesman Marty Heires attributes the problem to a mismarked shipping label diverting a small batch of alarms to Oregon from a state with lower standards.
The citation ordered Wal-Mart to remove the offending smoke alarms, which it did.
But Leonard says, "Every other store I'm aware of has figured out a way to make sure they sell the right detectors." Given Wal-Mart's need for local goodwill, the Rogue Desk thinks Wal-Mart ought to be able to figure that out, too.