On Your Side Investigation: Are expensive smoke alarms worth it?

Published: Aug. 8, 2019 at 6:35 PM CDT
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You might consider smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors priceless, but are they really worth thousands of dollars?

A man in Springfield pays nearly $100 each month for his system. And he says -- he's not certain the alarms work. He tried for months to get ahold of the person who sold him the alarms. After getting nowhere, that's when he reached out to On Your Side reporter Ashley Reynolds.

"It seemed like a good thing," said Charles Latta.

Latta was told each alarm has a specific function. He bought two carbon monoxide alarms, two smoke alarms and two heat alarms.

"They're supposed to change your batteries out every year. If something goes wrong with them they're supposed to come over and fix them or replace them. If you move, you're not allowed to move them. They have to come over and move them for you," Latta said.

He bought six alarms for $3,240. He's still making auto payments. He'll end up paying hundreds of dollars in interest.

"I didn't realize it was going to be that much until we started getting the paperwork on it," he said.

He's still paying about $100 each month and says he can't reach the salesperson.

"When you call those numbers, it keeps saying, mailbox is full. So you can't leave a message. Can't get nobody to answer," he said.

Using his financing papers On Your Side was able to get some answers.

In 2017, Elite Detection owed more than eight thousand dollars in taxes. This judgment was paid. Then using the Secretary of State database, we found another named tied to that LLC. He filed for bankruptcy and closed the company.

"They should have let us know that they were going out of business. And if they couldn't replace the stuff, with stuff that worked, then void the contract ... Instead of making us keep paying for it," Latta said.

On Your Side asked Johnson Controls, alarm professionals, to test these products. At first try, the technicians struggled with testing because the shape of these alarms are square. Traditional are circle. Then they sprayed artificial smoke directly on the alarm. The smoke alarm worked. The test for carbon monoxide sensor was inconclusive. The alarm did not go off. The device might require higher levels of artificial carbon monoxide for a longer period.

On Your Side called the numbers on the business card. No one picked up. Ashley Reynolds emailed the address on the card. She got a response and was told the company is no longer in business and to contact the corporate office. On Your Side explained Latta's situation to CrossFire Alarms in Texas.

The company responded by saying:

His options are to get the product replaced by contacting us if he has a service issue, and if the product is in fact not performing to standards he would be entitled to a replacement, at no cost. He can contact us at our website just like you did.

On Your Side asked about a refund.

Here's what they told us:

Mr. Latta purchased his product from an independent dealer who was not a franchisee, branch office, or agent of the manufacturer. As the manufacturer we were not part of that transaction. We did not receive any money from Mr. Latta and accordingly have no basis for paying him anything back.

Latta says he called the finance company on his bill and was denied a refund. He's talking with an attorney.

Firefighters tell On Your Side you don't need to pay thousands.

"Probably no more than $50," said Whitney Weaver with Nixa Fire Protection District.

If you don't want a carbon monoxide sensor, a lot of fire departments give away smoke alarms.

"To make people think systems are that expensive is just kind of ridiculous," said Weaver.

Latta bought these alarms at the KY3/KSPR Safe and Sound event. Elite Detection will not be back at our event. Through our event coordinator, Ashley Reynolds was able to reach the former owner's wife of Elite Detection. She says they closed the company because they did not make enough money.

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