Fireplace maker agrees to make protective screens

June 3, 2011 11:45:10 AM PDT
A warning was issued to anyone with a glass-enclosed fireplace. One fireplace maker has agreed to offer protective screens for its product. And amid growing numbers of children burned by glass fireplaces, there is increasing pressure on the industry to make its products safer. It's a story first reported by the investigative news organization

In a class action lawsuit settlement approved on Thursday by a federal judge, Lennox Fireplace will have to offer to send protective screens to 500,000 owners of its products and pay $4.93 million in legal fees and expenses just to the law firms involved. It is the biggest case against the industry so far, but there are more coming.

Signe Whelan, a 21-month-old girl, still wears compression gloves on her hands nearly a year after getting third degree burns from the glass fireplace in her parent's San Francisco home.

"We had no idea that that fireplace can get to 500 degrees and it takes 150 degrees to cause a third degree burn," said Sean Whelan, Signe's father.

Signe's then three-and-a-half-year-old brother had turned on the gas fireplace with a remote that afternoon, the sitter had no idea, and hours later neither did her parents. The flame was too low to see. Mom Melissa was in the kitchen when she heard Signe crying.

"I saw her and she had both hands on the fireplace there and at first I thought, 'Why is she crying, the fireplace hasn't been on in months and its July?' and then I thought, 'Oh My God,'" said Melissa Panico, Signe mom

The valor fireplace came with a booklet, all in French, and no other warning labels.

"I pulled her hands away and her entire hands were brown and I started screaming," said Panico.

Signe had surgery that night at St. Francisco Memorial Hospital's burn unit and a skin graft surgery two weeks later.

Reconstructive surgeon Dr. Jeffrey DeWeese says parents can't be too careful about checking their surroundings.

"I had a child that burned themselves on a brand new oven door. It wasn't actually the door, the door was well insulated, but the little hinges at the bottom of the door were not," said DeWeese.

According to online investigative non-profit FairWarning, more than 2,000 children five and under were burned on fireplace glass between 1999 and 2009.

Signe's parents' have just filed suit against Valor, hoping to bring that number down.

"Just a big, fat, red sticker on the window that says that these things get 500 degrees, would have been a good start," said Whelan.

"And the other thing is I didn't know it was on. So I felt like a red light or something [could have helped]," said Panico.

According to, the consumer product safety commission is taking the first steps toward government regulation of the fireplace industry. Also according to FairWarning, one of the companies that is a part of Valor, says that this is the first time in 30 years of selling fireplaces that they've had a lawsuit like this one. is a non-profit online investigative news organization focused on health and safety issues.

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