Nov 302004
Authors: James Baetke

Curling up under the covers might not be as safe as people think.

Some people turn to it for a good night's sleep, but some industry experts call it solid gasoline – it's best known as a mattress.

More than 700 people in the United States die annually in bedroom fires each year and thousands are injured, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

The polyurethane foam in many mattresses has been found to burn easily and quickly earning the nickname of solid gasoline.

While California legislatures recently enacted a bill to help save lives in mattress fires, the rest of the country maintains a 31-year-old federal mandate.

In January 2005, California will be the only state in the nation to have specific mandates on mattresses sold in the state. Under the new law, mattresses must withstand a 30-minute open flame test.

However, all other states currently operate under a less stringent federal mandate. This mandate states that all mattress tags must have a federal standard printed on them requiring manufacturers to produce a mattress that can resist ignition from a slow smoldering cigarette flame.

Even if the mattress tag states that it meets all federal standards that does not mean the mattress is resistant to open flames from sources such as candles or an electrical fire that may smolder near an electrical outlet. If the tag has the word "flame-retardant" on it, then the mattress is protected, according to CPSC.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is the federal governmental agency that oversees mattress mandates.

Serta Inc. is the only national company already on board with California's new law with the new 2004 Serta "Fire Blocker" mattress.

In a U.S. Senate Committee hearing in July, Vice President for Research and Development Al Klancnik said Serta had moved forward and demonstrated the technology for fire-resistant mattresses exists.

"We hope our actions prompt other companies to make safer mattresses," said Kally Reynolds, Serta director for public relations.

On Nov. 1, the CPSC presented a draft proposing a new fire safety standard for mattresses.

Reynolds believes the draft action may be an indication that a new federal standard on mattresses is soon coming.

Ultimately, the draft is designed to reduce the number of deaths and injuries from bedroom fires resulting from mattresses and flammable bedclothes. The mattress standard would limit the size of the fire and prevent or delay the time it takes for a fire to engulf an entire room.

Ken Giles, spokesman for the CPSC, said the draft proposed will allow more time for people to escape from a mattress fire and will give rescue personnel more time to extinguish the fire.

"The standard calls for reducing the intensity of the flame and for reducing the fire growth," Giles said.

Reynolds said the challenge mattress companies face today is making a comfortable bed that is also safe. She also said companies must recognize that by the time flames attach to bedclothes, the flame is already large and capable of engulfing the mattress.

Ken Quintana, director for safety and security for the Housing and Dining Services at CSU, said the residence halls on campus are well equipped with fire prevention items.

Campus housing does not provide "fire-proofed" mattresses, but the mattresses in campus housing have a high turn-around rate and the university spends about $100,000 on new mattresses every year, Quintana said. The mattresses follow the national standard related to cigarette flames.

"We do take fire safety really serious. It is one of those things we do not ignore," Quintana said.

Campus safety officials will be retrofitting fire sprinklers in all the residence halls during summer 2005 and will be updating fire alarm systems with newer technology, Quintana said.

Quintana can recall only two fires sparking in the residence halls during his 12 years with campus safety. Neither were related to mattresses.

"We believe we have a responsibility to make safer mattresses as soon as possible," Reynolds said. "Time is life in a bedroom fire."



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