Building owners and other consumers now have more options in how they replace the 37 million O-ring fire sprinklers that were recalled two years ago by Central Sprinkler Corp. The increased flexibility is the result of a settlement agreement reached by the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International in its lawsuit against Central Sprinkler Corp. over Central’s O-ring fire sprinklers.
Under the new agreement, building owners now may be able to hire their own contractors to replace the O-ring sprinklers and receive reimbursement from Central toward the labor costs. Building owners would have to notify Central and submit a claim first. (Reimbursement is prorated depending upon how long after filing a completed claim building owners have waited for sprinkler replacement to begin.) The original recall program required building owners to wait for Central to arrange for installation.
BOMA International filed a lawsuit on June 1, 2001, seeking removal and replacement of the O-ring sprinklers on behalf of its members after independent testing revealed that some of Central’s O-ring sprinklers could degrade over time, affecting how the sprinklers activate in a fire. Specifically, Underwriters Laboratories, an independent, not-for-profit product safety certification organization, found that, due to degradation from salts, water minerals, and other contaminants, some of the sprinkler heads with the O-ring seal required a higher water pressure to operate than was available in some buildings. On July 9, 2001, after a two-year investigation, Underwriters Laboratories revised its UL Standard for Safety for Automatic Sprinklers for Fire Protections Service, UL199, so that O-ring seal sprinklers would not be permitted after January 2003.
Central Sprinkler Corp., an affiliate of Tyco Fire Products, recalled its O-ring fire sprinklers on July 19, 2001, in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Since that time, BOMA International and Central Sprinkler Corp. have been working together to enhance the recall program for BOMA members and other building owners.
Central is replacing the O-ring fire sprinklers with sprinklers that contain a Belleville spring seal. Most O-ring sprinklers contain a small glass bulb that acts both as a heat-sensing element and a plug to keep the sprinkler closed under normal conditions. The bulb contains a liquid such as alcohol. A rubber O-ring seal encircles the bulb, keeping the sprinkler head watertight. In the event of a fire, the liquid in the bulb expands, shattering the bulb, unplugging the seal and allowing water to flow. The Belleville seal does not contain the rubber O-ring seal, which, tests have indicated, could be more susceptible to corrosion or degradation over time. Instead, the Belleville seal uses a thin, Teflon-coated washer-shaped piece of metal to circle the sprinkler.
The voluntary recall program involves approximately 37 million Central O-ring sprinklers. Approximately 167,000 were sold under the names of Gem Sprinkler Co. and Star Sprinkler Inc. The voluntary replacement program provides for the free removal and replacement of the O-ring fire sprinklers.
The settlement agreement produced several program enhancements in addition to giving building owners more flexibility to hire their own contractors for installation. For building owners who choose to allow Central Sprinkler Corp. to arrange for the installation of the free sprinkler heads, Central Sprinkler will use contractors bonded against theft whenever such bonding is required under a building owner’s lease or management agreement.
In addition, Central will reimburse up to $75 for permit fees that some building owners have paid in jurisdictions that require a permit fee before a sprinkler head can be changed.
Central has also agreed to reimburse building owners who replaced their O-ring sprinklers between Feb. 2000 and July 19, 2001, for the cost of replacement materials and labor. Only building owners who contacted Central in writing some time between Feb. 2000 and July 19, 2001, requesting that Central replace their O-ring sprinklers are eligible to receive reimbursement under this program enhancement.
Finally, Central has agreed to appoint an independent ombudsman to assist building owners in resolving any disputes with Central. Central has selected a former state fire marshal to fill the position.
BOMA International is very pleased with the agreement reached with Central Sprinkler Corp., as these enhancements give building owners the choice and flexibility they need to determine the best course of action for replacing their O-ring fire sprinklers. BOMA International encourages owners of buildings with Central Sprinkler Corp.’s O-ring fire sprinklers to participate in Central’s voluntary recall program.
Building owners interested in learning more about the voluntary recall program or its enhancements may call Central’s toll free Customer Hotline at (866) 505-8553, visit (www.sprinklerreplacement.com), or visit BOMA International’s website at (www.boma.org). To learn how to participate in Central’s free sprinkler replacement program, building owners can call the Notice Packet Request line at (800) 871-3492.
Larry F. Soehren is president of Washington, D.C.-based Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International.