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David Perry

Industry could get burned by wrong use of FR terms

March 21, 2005

David Perry
Executive Editor

Don’t do a slow burn. We all need to begin thinking about how we are going to talk to consumers about mattress flammability.

This will not be simple. On the one hand, we need to tell consumers why improved flammability protection in our bedding products should matter to them. But we don’t want to scare them or cause needless alarm.

There are some words or phrases that we must avoid, the foremost of them being “fireproof.” The reality is that, under the right conditions, anything will burn. Rocks burn. That’s what lava is.

The correct term here is “fire resistant” or “fire retardant.” That better conveys the fact that our products, when treated with new types of open-flame protection now being offered by a growing list of suppliers, will resist ignition. And while the bed is resisting ignition, people in the home have time to escape and call for help.

Some suppliers like to use the fire-resistant or fire-retardant terms in connection with a reference to a specific flammability test. Example: The new Brand X line of FR materials is designed to help producers meet or exceed the fire-resistance standards in California’s Technical Bulletin 603 test.

Another word we should use with care, if at all, is “inflammable.” You might think it means something that won’t burn. But it really means … Something that will burn. Look it up. I didn’t believe this either until Bobby Bush at Hickory Springs showed it to me in a dictionary.

Terminology is important. We don’t want to give consumers a false sense of security. Fire is a dangerous, deadly enemy, one that must be treated with respect. We don’t want consumers to think they bear no personal responsibility for their own safety if they buy a new FR-treated bed.

We also don’t want to scare consumers. Serta says its FireBlocker product is “helping keep families safe” and offers “peace of mind.” Those are reassuring messages.

Serta also notes, in a consumer brochure, that “none of us wants to think about a home fire, but they do happen.” That strikes just the right note.

I’m eager to see what sort of consumer education campaigns other producers — and perhaps the industry itself — will be developing in the coming months. We are breaking new ground here, but that shouldn’t scare us into inaction.

Yes, our products are flammable — and also inflammable, as it turns out — in the right (or, more properly, wrong) circumstances. No, they won’t be fireproof, even with new FR protection. So those are words we will want to avoid. But our products will be fire resistant, and that’s a message worth telling. (for public comments click on "Add your Comment" below, or to email Dave directly click here.)