Fisher-Price Toy Implicated in Series of Fires

May 22, 2001 -- Karla Hoyt and her family woke up to a fire in their Youngstown, Ohio home last summer and barely escaped. Now, they are blaming a popular toy for the terrifying blaze.

"The street was quiet. No one was up. No one could hear me screaming for help," Hoyt told Good Morning America.

In the ashes, family members found what they think caused the fire: a battery-powered Power Wheels Jeep, made by Fisher-Price. It had been plugged in and was re-charging overnight on their front porch.

Three years ago, the government announced a recall of 10 million Power Wheels, the popular children's ride-on toys. It was one of the largest recalls ever. But Good Morning America consumer correspondent Greg Hunter found out from Fisher-Price that therecall has failed to reach 80 percent of the potentially dangerous toys, and there are allegations that the fix itself may be flawed.

"I had just been asleep in that house! My children had just been asleep in that house! And if we hadn't of woken up we would have died in that house," Hoyt said.

Implicated in Series of Fires

That a child's toy could cause a devastating fire may be surprising, but regulators in Washington, D.C. are aware of the problem. The toy has been implicated in a series of fires.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the 1998 recall, saying the electrical systems in the toys could overheat.

"This is a potential fire hazard waiting to happen in your home or garage," CPSC Chairwoman Ann Brown said back in 1998. The government agency said some of the Power Wheels' electrical components weren't strong enough, and could overheat and cause the vehicles to burst into flames while being re-charged, or even as children were riding them.

Fisher-Price, on the other hand, says it has found no evidence that the toy caused any fire it has investigated, before or after the recall, including the Youngstown fire.

The company says it has spent $58 million on the recall, and alerted as many as 60 million people. Fisher-Price is calling the recall a success, but not everyone agrees.

The Hoyt family says they never heard about the Power Wheels recall until a firefighter told them, the day their house burned. And there are millions of other people across America who have still never had their Power Wheels repaired.

A Thousand More Reports

The consequences have been predictable: Before the recall, there were 850 reports of Power Wheels overheating or catching fire. Since the recall, Fisher-Price has received up to 1,000 additional reports of the unrepaired electric toys overheating or starting fires.

And now, the danger may include vehicles that have been repaired.

Aaron Banerjee, a former CPSC engineer who worked on the recall, says the recall does not fix all of Power Wheels' problems.

"I would call it a halfway job because it … addresses some of the issues but not all," Banerjee said. Asked if there is going to be more fires connected to the toy in the future, he said, "yes, there are."

Under Fisher-Price's government-approved recall, the company has to replace a fuse and the battery connection with redesigned, beefed-up components. But Banerjee says this replacement is a "compromise."

And there are things that didn't get repaired in the recall, and could cause fires, too, including switches and connections, he says.

A Family Sues Fisher-Price

Jennifer and Bob Pavelka are suing Fisher-Price, based on claims that their children's Power Wheels Ninja set their Long Island, N.Y. home on fire, after it had been repaired under the recall. They were not home when the fire broke out.

"We lost everything that we owned," Pavelka said. "Everything that we saved for, everything we bought was in the house."

His wife was equally distraught.

"Oh, it was horrible," Jennifer Pavelka said. "He just kept saying don't come home, there's nothing to come home to."

Fisher-Price denies the Power Wheels are to blame for that fire, and says the fixes that are required under the recall are sufficient to address any safety issues with the Power Wheels.

But the Pavelkas aren't the only ones dissatisfied after the recall. There are about 100 additional reports of problems with repaired Power Wheels, including overheating or fire.

The company says in the majority of those cases, the situation was easily corrected without further incidents. Finally the company says "…the safety of children is our most important concern." And "The Fisher Price name is built on a long-standing trust with parents, which we take great pride in earning."

But fire victims say this recall is nothing to be proud of.

"We didn't just lose material things. We lost our sense of safety," Hoyt said. "We lost our sense of believing that companies do what's right."

Brown, the head of the CPSC, refused to sit down with Good Morning America and discuss the recall.

In a statement the CPSC says it is closely monitoring the recall, and says there is no evidence of safety problems beyond those corrected in 1998.