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Firefighters warn about smoke alarm scam
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PINELLAS COUNTY – Fire officials from several Pinellas County municipalities are warning residents about a company that is promoting hard-wired fire alarm systems that end up costing thousands of dollars.

The St. Petersburg company is allegedly directing sales calls to mainly mobile home parks. Complaints have been reported in Palm Harbor, Pinellas Park, Largo and Seminole.

So concerned are firefighters over the scam that they met on March 17 at Largo City Hall to discuss a course of action.

Deputy Chief Ray Hansen of Pinellas Park in a letter to fire Chief Doug Lewis said the company claims to be affiliated with area fire departments, thereby misleading people into believing that the alarm systems are officially endorsed when they are not.

“Since all fire departments provide battery powered alarms at no charge the public needs to be made aware that fire departments are not involved in this company’s sales program,” Hansen said.

Liz Monforti of Palm Harbor Fire Rescue said both Palm Harbor and Largo fire officials have received reports that a company is contacting residents of mobile home parks. The sales representative who calls identifies herself as Elizabeth, Jeanine and Jeanie.

Monforti said in at least one case someone left a message on an answering machine, saying they represented the Pinellas County Fire Prevention Task Force. The toll free number that was left has since been disconnected.

In Largo, Monforti said, a resident purchased the product “for thousands of dollars.

“Largo police could not do much since the resident allowed the company representative into their home and signed a contract,” Monforti said in a report.

Fire officials have no problem with the product or safety information that is being distributed. It’s the way sales calls are conducted that has them concerned.

“We want residents to know that their fire departments are not affiliated with any smoke alarm company,” Monforti said. “We provide battery operated smoke alarms at no charge.”

Fire Inspector Alison Shanabrook of Seminole Fire Rescue said a call to the St. Petersburg company resulted in a price quote of $2,291 for smoke alarms that were not hardwired.

Suzanne Boisvert of the Pinellas Park fire department said she recently presented a fire safety program to a homeowner’s association. Shortly thereafter some of the residents began receiving calls from someone who was promoting expensive fire alarms.

Fire officials in that city alerted residents of the scam and the calls stopped, Boisvert said.

Persons who receive calls from shady salespeople pitching smoke alarms are urged to contact their local police or fire department.

Officer Donna Saxer of the Pinellas Park police crime prevention bureau said there is no reason to spend a lot of money on fire detectors.

“Local fire departments provide them for free,” Saxer said. “Buying one at Home Depot or Lowe’s will cost only a few dollars.”

Saxer warned residents not to allow strangers into their homes. People should also be very wary of telephone solicitations, she said.
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