MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - At its best, Auto-Out is a semi-reliable safeguard when people won't use their common sense.
At its worst, Auto-Out is a false sense of security when people don't use their common sense.
Twenty years in the making, Auto-Out is the brainchild of Warren Watts Technology in Ft. Worth, TX. Resembling a tuna can sealed with a firecracker-like fuse, Auto-Out is installed under the vent-a-hood or microwave above a stove. For $32 a pair, the Auto-Out cans hang suspended over the stove's eyes in anticipation of an unattended grease fire.
"As you have a grease fire, it's going to come up," said Brent Williams, managing partner of Warren Watts Technology. "It's going to trigger the sensor on the bottom, and that sensor causes the lid to open up. It's going to drop sodium bicarbonate (read: baking soda) down on the fire, extinguishing the fire."
WMC Action News 5's interest in Auto-Out stemmed from the statistic that cooking fires are the number one cause of house fires in Memphis and in the United States, according to the Memphis Fire Department.
"The top three causes of residential fires are cooking, heating units and electrical," said Memphis Fire Department spokesperson Lt. Wayne Cooke.
Memphis firefighters have fought a residential cooking fire as recently as Oct. 28. Cooke confirmed a cooking fire started a blaze at 1497 Old Hickory Dr. in Whitehaven.
"One of the residents left cooking oil cooking and unattended," Cooke said. The fire report revealed the home didn't have a working smoke detector, either.
With that in mind, we had Williams install two Auto-Out cans under the vent-a-hood of a stove installed inside the Memphis Fire Department's "fire house" training bunker at its training facility in Frayser on 4341 Robertson Road.
With a firefighter suited up and armed with an extinguisher just in case, Williams set a simulated grease fire in a skillet on top of the stove. We conducted the test twice.
The first time, Auto-Out activated, but failed to put out the fire when its baking soda didn't smother the entire fire.
"That is a concern," Cooke said.
"It just needs to be centered above or between the two burners," Williams said. "In the case of the first one we did, it was off-center."
After an adjustment, Auto-Out snuffed out the grease fire in our second test.
That didn't assure Cooke of its effectiveness, especially considering most stoves have four burners.
"We never put total confidence in any device," Cooke said. "Always have several devices and a plan of action for escaping a burning home. You must have a working smoke detector and check its batteries at least twice a year."
Cooke recommended every home should have an ABC-certified fire extinguisher, too.
"An ABC-classification fire extinguisher will cover your wood, paper and plastic products," he said. "It will cover flammable liquids, as well as electrical appliances."
Williams argued Auto-Out is an excellent deterrent when installed properly. Absolute Security Products, Inc. of Bartlett, Auto-Out's distributor/retailer in the Mid-South, has sold 12,000 sets to apartment complexes since January. Neither Williams nor Absolute Security Products, Inc., could provide any quantitative statistics on how many properties or lives Auto-Out has saved since it hit the market.
"You do get a lot of fire-fighting powder that basically goes straight to the fire, extinguishes it and makes it a much safer environment," Williams insisted.
Auto-Out is a MAYBE. It certainly does not take the place of personal responsibility in your kitchen and a fire prevention/escape plan that includes a working and maintained smoke detector.