A product designed to protect electronic devices from dangerous spikes in electricity may have contributed to a handful of fires nationwide that damaged homes and office equipment. Consumers also blame the products failure for frying their computers and other expensive electronics.
ConsumerAffairs.com uncovered these potential hazards during a review of complaints from homeowners across the country.
The product at the heart of these complaints is the Power Sentry Surge Protector. Since 2003, ConsumerAffairs.com has heard repeated safety concerns about this brand of surge protectors.
Consumers from California to New York wonder why the product is still on the market. Theyre homeowners like Phillip C. of Kansas, who says the Power Sentry Surge Protector he had hooked up to his computer recently triggered a devastating fire.
On Easter Sunday, our home caught fire and it was a total loss, Phillip told us. My wife, my seven-year-old son, and I were able to get out of the house, but we have lost everything we owned.
His insurance company pinpointed the Power Sentry Surge Protector as source of the blaze. The insurance companys electrical engineer found the power strip (surge protector) had started the fire, he says.
The Independence, Kansas, Rural Fire Districts report confirms Phillips account of the blaze -- and the electricians findings.
Firefighters made entry in the front door and made aggressive interior attack and extinguished the fire, the report states. Fire was in the office area of the house, south end, and damaged a bathroom and a bedroom. ... Extensive smoke and heat damage throughout the structure, the report adds. Fire appeared to have started in the office area near the desk and wall.
The fire department estimates the loss to Phillips home and contents at $35,000 -- or half its pre-incident value.
The report also states an electrical engineer investigated the blaze and identified the source: Owner stated the engineer indicated the fire started in the surge protector strip(s) from the computer(s).
Phillip says his family lost something more valuable than their homes contents during the fire. They lost peace of mind.
(We) have bad dreams, says Phillip, who has retained an attorney to investigate possible legal action against the company. And we are waking up every hour (because) were so scared theres a fire.
This isnt the only case in which a Power Sentry Surge Protector was linked to a fire.
Alexis K. of Idaho says she used that brand of surge protector on her fish tank back in July 2003 and it suddenly caught fire.
Flames were coming from one of the plugs in the receptacle, she recalls. I was sitting at the computer, which was not far away, on the other side of the room, and all of the sudden, I saw the flames. It was like whoa, whats going on?
Idahos Twin Falls City Rural Fire Department responded to the blaze.
Alexis directed us to a surge protector that was located under an aquarium tank, the report states. One outlet of the surge protector had a plug in its outlet and was melted in place. One electrical outlet slot next to the melted plug appeared to have shorted or was damaged by the fire.
The fire caused minimal damage to Alexis home and contents -- less than $300. But the Idaho woman calls that a lucky twist of fate. We were home at the time. Otherwise, it would have been a lot worse than that. It would have caused my house to catch fire.
This brand of surge protectors, Alexis says, should be pulled off the market until theres proof the product is safe.
I would like to know why they have not been recalled. There was definitely a malfunction with mine. These (surge protectors) should be checked out further.
Alexis contacted the company about her fire, but says officials did not ask her to send them the fire-damaged surge protector. The company, however, reimbursed her for the cost of the surge protector that caught on fire and the other Power Sentry Surge Protectors in her home.
That action didnt make her a loyal customer, though.
I would never use this brand of surge protectors again, not even for something small and minor, Alexis says. Why put yourself at risk and in danger of the same thing happening again? And next time, I might not be home.
Other homeowners nationwide echo Alexis concerns about Power Sentry Surge Protectors.
• We had a power surge and the (Power Sentry Office Workstation) surge protector caught fire, says Roberta F. of Joshua Tree, California. I am very thankful that we were home. I was in the next room and heard my computer make a terrible noise and then smelled the most awful burning smell. I rushed into the office and yanked the Power Sentry plug from the wall and put out the fire that had started in the carpeting beneath my desk.I dont believe surge protectors are supposed to catch fire after they do their job;
• This is a product that is supposed to protect your electronic equipment, says William C. of Warren, Michigan. On June 24, 2007, (my) Power Sentry (Surge Protector) caught on fire. Luckily, we were home to unplug it. I want to know what caused it to suddenly catch on fire;
• My (Power Sentry) Surge Protector caught fire, says John B. of Glenn Mills, Pennsylvania. And it caused damage to my home (carpeting and sub-floors) and my computer equipment.
An Illinois consumer also told us the Power Sentry Surge Protector he used in his camper triggered a fire.
I plugged in my 50-amp power cord in the outside receptacle and then my wife yelled frantically to come inside, says Daniel H. of Mazon, Illinois. I cut the outside breaker, came running into our camper, smelled electrical smoke, and found her stomping out the mattress pad.
We had a heated mattress and I had put the controller on the bed, he adds. The heated mattress pad was plugged into the surge protector ... the controller is what caught on fire. Damage from the fire was minimal -- a ruined mattress pad, bed spread, and the surge protector.
But the potential was there for a much more serious issue, Daniel says. We could have been burned alive in our sleep or, if we werent there when it happened, there would have been a violent explosion. We had two propane tanks nearby. I was so doggone terrified by the whole instance, he adds. And my wife didnt feel safe in the camper anymore, so we sold it.
Like other consumers, Daniel wonders why these surge protectors are still on store shelves. I definitely think this is something that ought to be looked at. The company basically needs to improve its product so its more or less a fail-safe item.
Not the only concerns
These arent the only safety concerns ConsumerAffairs.com has uncovered about Power Sentry Surge Protectors. Some consumers said the product failed to protect their computers and other electronics during spikes in electricity.
During a recent lightening storm the (Power Sentry) surge protector that I had plugged into a grounded, perfectly electrically wired outlet, didnt work, says Anna G. of Ingram, Texas. I had a very nice TV and VCR plugged into this protector, both were burned out and no longer even turn on. Im out $500 at least for the cost of my TV and VCR.
Anna repeatedly tried -- without success -- to contact Power Sentry. Ive dialed the number over 900 and all I ever get is a busy signal.
Another Texas consumer said her Power Sentry Surge Protector repeatedly failed to protect her electronics and computer equipment.
Twice, within the past two years, I have lost expensive equipment that was plugged into a Power Sentry Surge Protector, says Esther S. of Saratoga, Texas. I have had two lightening strikes to my home. The first time was about three years; I lost an amplifier to my sound system that was plugged into the product, as well as all the other facets of the sound system.
Lightning, she says, struck her home again about a year ago. I lost my Gateway Laptop that I had in my possession for about a year. The Lexmark printer that I had purchased less than a year before was also destroyed. Also, the portable landline phone was destroyed.
Esthers insurance company didnt cover all her losses. Those damages, she says, should be paid by Power Sentry: I firmly believe this company should be held completely responsible and reimburse people like myself for the equipment lost.
Esther, however, acknowledges that she didnt pursue a claim with the company. I felt there would not be a chance of any kind for me to get replacement ... so I just bit the bullet and took the loss with no compensation whatsoever.
Other consumers blame a faulty Power Sentry Surge Protector for the loss of thousands of dollars in computer equipment and electronics as these complaints reveal:
• I bought a Power Sentry Surge Protector and it has completely damaged my laptop and I also lost valuable data, Viv of Norcross, Georgia, told us in 2004. My total loss is $25,000;
• After seven months, the (Power Sentry) Surge Protector did not stand up to the manufacturers warranty, Rosemary of Smithtown, New York, said in 2006. It had a lifetime guarantee to protect computers. (But) the surge burnt out my computer;
• I purchased several of the protectors about a year ago, John S. of Covington, Louisiana, told us in June 2007. Last night, lightening struck the exterior wall, which the protector was plugged into. I was watching a video at the time. During the flash, my TV and DVD player went out. I checked the protector and the lights indicated that it was still grounded and protecting. I plugged other items into it and they worked. However, the TV and DVD are still dead. John says he lost $615 worth of electronics. Thanks Power Sentry, he says.
Power Sentry, Inc., a company that developed, manufactured, marketed, and distributed surge protectors and other computer accessories, was based in Plymouth, Minnesota.
The company, however, became a subsidiary of Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV in July 2006.
ConsumerAffairs.com contacted Philips Electronics about the complaints weve received regarding Power Sentry Surge Protectors. The company did not return the call.
ConsumerAffairs.com also contacted the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to see if the agency has received any complaints about the product. We also wanted to find out if the federal office charged with protecting the public from unsafe consumer products had issued any recalls involving Power Sentry Surge Protectors.
We have not done a recall of that company or subsidiary involving their product, said CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson.
When asked if the CPSC had received any complaints about Power Sentry Surge Protectors, Wolfson said he couldnt comment.
Our rules dont allow me to answer that question, he told us. When there is no recall of a product that rule kicks in and you have to go through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to get it. So I cant answer that, but our FOIA process could.
Records reveal the CPSC has recalled other brands of surge protectors because they posed a fire, shock, or electrocution hazard. Those dangers, for example, prompted a 1999 recall of about 3,900 Kingsland Tools Power Strip Surge Protectors.
The CPSC offered the following advice to consumers using any brand of surge protectors:
• Dont overload the device;
• Use a surge protector for products that are most need of protection. In many cases that is a home computer;
• Only buy surge protectors that are approved by an independent and nationally recognized testing laboratory.
We also recommend that consumers power down as many electronics as they can following their use, the CPSCs Wolfson told us. There is that stored energy and a possibility for surges, which could overheat your electronics.
We are always concerned about overheating with electronics, he added.
Consumers who have concerns about Power Sentry Surge Protectors -- or any product they consider unsafe -- can file a report on the CPSCs Web site. Consumers should also file reports with ConsumerAffairs.com and other consumer sites.
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