Atlanta Chief Upset About Phony Detectors

ATLANTA --

A CBS Atlanta tough questions investigation has forced the hand of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department.

A CBS Atlanta News tough questions investigation uncovered more than 18,000 counterfeit smoke detectors bought by the AFD and given out to people in low-income, high-risk fire areas since 2006.

AFD is starting a massive campaign to recall the counterfeit smoke detectors, and now the Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched their own investigation.

CBS Atlanta reporter Jennifer Mayerle alerted Chief Kelvin Cochran the moment CBS Atlanta News believed the detectors were counterfeit.

Before Cochran addressed the rest of the media, he sat down with Mayerle to talk candidly about our investigation.

"First I want to start by saying thank you for your investigative reporting tenacity that led to the discovery of these counterfeit smoke alarms," said Cochran. "My initial reactions were frustration, disappointment [and] anger that over five years of a very aggressive fire prevention campaign to install smoke alarms in the residences in the city of Atlanta was possibly thwarted due to initially the possibility for counterfeit smoke alarms."

CBS Atlanta revealed the city bought the smoke detectors from a crooked company in California led by career criminal Bob Silver and his wife Judy. Both have spent time in prison for also selling counterfeit smoke detectors to the federal government.

"We’ve just discovered, again through your work, that we’ve been duped by a faulty manufacturer and a faulty vendor. Our efforts all along has been that everything that we’re doing is authentically geared toward the life safety of the residents of the city of Atlanta and, until recently, we’ve discovered differently," said Cochran.

"Do you think the fire department did its due diligence when it did business with Silver Sails and bought these smoke detectors?" Mayerle asked Cochran.

"I believe we did Jennifer. We followed the city of Atlanta's policies and procedures," said Cochran.

The counterfeit smoke detectors have a fake hologram UL label on the back. Another distinguishing mark is three sets of five slotted vents on the front of the detector.

Mayerle showed the state fire marshal the counterfeit detector on Wednesday. Dwayne Garriss raised tough questions about the label on the back immediately.

"It looks like it has a listing, but normally UL has a number that it's listed to, not just listed. It usually has a product test number," said Garriss.

Mayerle asked Cochran, "If the state fire marshal could realize within 10 seconds of looking at it there was something wrong with it, why didn't firefighters realize it five years ago?"

"I would assume the state fire marshal has a level of awareness and knowledge of UL labels that a fire chief or firefighters normally do not have," said Cochran.

As a result of this investigation, Cochran said knowing what to look for on a smoke detector label will become part of the training for the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department. Cochran also said he'll share the information with departments around the country.

"It gave those residents a false sense of security. It gave our men and women that were installing those smoke alarms a false sense of security, and it's given me as fire chief a false sense of security. That’s why we have this tremendous sense of urgency that we’ve got to fix this as soon as possible," said Cochran.

The fire department has established a recall hotline to call if you think you have a counterfeit smoke detector.

The number is 404-546-2733 or you can email smokealarm@atlantaga.gov.

The fire department is working with Federal Emergency Management Agency as well as smoke detector companies to get replacements quickly.

Even though the FBI is investigating, Atlanta is also considering legal options, including talking to the state's attorney general’s office.

Copyright 2011 by cbsatlanta.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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