Consumer Correspondent's Report on Recalled Heaters

Jan. 28, 2003 -- As an arctic blast continues to freeze much of the country, keep this in mind: The month with the most fire-related home deaths is usually January, followed closely by December and February.

Good Morning America's Consumer Correspondent Greg Hunter reported on electric heaters that have been recalled.

The following is an uncorrected, unedited transcript of that report.

ABCNEWS' GREG HUNTER: (Voice Over Tape) The Cadet Company says it has successfully completed a recall of

nearly 2 million electric wall heaters, reassuring news after a series of horrible fires.

Yakima County, Washington, 1996, four children die in a fire. Their heartbroken parents say it was caused by a Cadet heater. Seattle, 1997, two more little girls die in an apartment fire. Again, a Cadet heater is blamed.

When the Consumer Product Safety Commission says a product is defective, many companies voluntarily do a recall, not Cadet. And when the government sued in 1999, what did Cadet do? It declared bankruptcy. Protected by Chapter 11, the company and the CPSC settled with an unusual recall.

Recalls routinely require manufacturers to replace defective products or pay for repairs. Cadet didn't pay a dime for either.

What's more, the company, located near Portland, Oregon, was allowed to make a small profit selling replacement parts related to the recall. And while most recalls go on indefinitely, the limited Cadet recall ended after two years, in February of 2002.

And that might have been the end of a tragic story. Except for what happened here at this house in Alexandria, Virginia, in September of2002.


HUNTER: (Voice Over Tape) Another fire blamed on a recalled Cadet heater, and 4-year-old Declan Fife is dead. In spite of the fact that Cadet says it replaced nearly a half a million heaters, it turns out as many as 400,000 more remain unaccounted for. Darrell Hay is a home inspector in Seattle.

How often do you run into one of these heaters?

DARRELL HAY, HOME INSPECTOR: Several times a month.

HUNTER: (On Camera) A recalled Cadet heater?

HAY: Yeah.

HUNTER: (Voice Over Tape) He showed us one he found while inspecting Joan Hansen's home in Seattle. (Hunter On Camera) Well, the company says they had a recall.


HUNTER: And it was successfully completed. What do you think about that?


I think they missed a few.

HUNTER: And close calls continue. Last month, firefighters in Edmonds,

Washington, responded to two different alarms involving recalled Cadet heaters.

MIKE SMITH, EDMONDS FIRE INSPECTOR: My experience is that there are still a lot of heaters out there that, that

haven't had the upgrades done, and they're still causing fires.

TERRY LUMSDEN, LAWYER SUING CADET: I think it's outrageous. It's like 400,000 cars out there with potentially

defective brakes. They're ticking time bombs.

HUNTER:Cadet denies its heaters caused those fires and continues to insist the vast majority of the recalled heaters were not defective. Can't the company do more?


The problem Cadet Manufacturing has is funding. The company went through a bankruptcy. We continue to owe millions of dollars to, to other people.

HUNTER: Cadet's Web site and hotline still include recall information. But Cadet has been allowed to stop running newspaper ads warning people of the danger. And it no longer alerts fire officials, utility companies, or homeowner associations. Don't you have to do more than just have a Web site and a phone number?


For two years, Cadet, we were in the national press, we mailed out hundreds of thousands of forms to people, anyone who had called us or anyone who had sent in a warranty card.

HUNTER: But there are still up to 400,000 heaters out there. That didn't work. People's lives are at risk, aren't they? What you're doing at this point has left up to 400,000 of these heaters that have been recalled in people's homes.


Cadet continues to try to do what we can to solve this problem.

ABCNEWS' CHARLIE GIBSON: (On Camera:) And Greg Hunter joins us here. A couple of questions. Number one, these, are they all around the country?

HUNTER: They were sold mostly in the West and Northwest, but as you saw in the story, they can end up anywhere.

GIBSON: All right. And what should people do to try to find out if they have one of these? 'Cause these are not being still sold, right?

HUNTER: They're not being sold. But they're in wall heaters with a fan or blower, and you need to see if you can find the name Cadet on this heater. If you can't, you need to shine a light, like that building inspector was doing, shine a light through the vent and see if you can see Cadet. You may have to pull the grade off to get the serial numbers. There are 12 different models that are recalled. They're all in the wall heaters. CPSC [U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission] says they are dangerous, make no mistake.

For more information, go to the Consumer Product Safety Commission Web site: