Some Puget Sound residents say a Tukwila fire safety company used deceptive sales tactics to pressure them into buying safety equipment. Some Red Safety customers say at least one worker falsely claimed to be a firefighter when trying to make a sale.
“Well, there were two guys who came to the door and said we’re from the fire department,” Red Safety customer Kim Van Dhyke said.
The two men who came to Van Dhyke’s Kenmore home in November were from the company Red Safety. They wanted to outfit her home with smoke detectors and a burglar alarm.
“I don’t know, I felt intimated because they just kept pressuring me,” Van Dhyke explained. “And I didn’t appreciate the fact that they pressured me into this. I think it was very unfair.”
Jesse discovered one Red Safety employee, Johnathan Jordan O’Farrell, was not a firefighter. He was actually a felon. O’Farrell wanted to sign Dhyke to a $70 a month package.
“In fact, one thing that really got me is, I drink Ensure, and I had opened my refrigerator to get something out of the refrigerator and he saw all the Ensure I had in there. He says you know, you can afford this if you get rid of that Ensure, you don’t need to drink that,” Van Dhyke explained.
Van Dhyke, wasn’t the only Red Safety customer who told Jesse she was pressured into a fire safety package deal.
Just down the street, Mary Lee Mager was also sold a system by Red Safety.
She says O’Farrell told her and her sister that he was a firefighter.
“They didn’t tell us until after I had already signed the papers and he was sitting there and he goes well, I can’t be a firefighter,” Mager said.
In 2011, O’Farrell plead guilty to eluding police in Snohomish County. A year later, he was found guilty in Seattle Municipal Court for assault and interfering with reporting of domestic violence.
“I let him into my house and my family and trusted them to set up this alarm system and he has a criminal record,” former Seahawks player Joe Tafoya said.
Tafoya also got a Red Safety system. He met O’Farrell when both were working at nearby booths at a women’s show in Seattle.
“At some point during the women’s show, he mentioned that the organization was all ex-firefighters, including himself,” Tafoya explained. “I’m embarrassed, I really am embarrassed. I feel wronged.”
O’Farrell’s boss and the owner of Red Safety, Jared Olin, is a real firefighter with the Renton Fire Department.
Fire Inspector Wendy Booth with the Northshore Fire Department learned about Red Safety when responding to a fire alarm at Mager’s house.
“They are very deceptive in getting their name out there. They said they’re firefighters and gaining entrance to their home to do their sales for their business, Red Safety,” Booth said.
Booth even questioned some of the decisions Red Safety made in Mager’s home, including two detectors that are placed very close together.
“It appeared that there was just a little bit of an overkill of what kind of a system that they got. In a mobile home, there was 6 smoke detectors, and a carbon monoxide detector,” Booth explained. “NFPA code does say that you should have one outside your sleeping area and one inside your sleeping area. But NFPA code is not for existing structures, it’s for new construction,” Booth said.
Olin, who declined an on-camera interview, says his company uses the standard for new construction.
However, Booth also had problems with the small fire extinguisher placed in Mager’s home.
“In part of their package, they receive two fire extinguishers. They are just the two and a half pound little small ones that I would maybe recommend that you have for your car. It’s not going to last very long. It’s not going to protect your way out and that’s primarily what a fire extinguisher in your home is going to do,” Booth explained.
Northshore Fire Department is not alone. Fire departments from East Pierce County to Shoreline have had concerns with Red Safety’s sales tactics.
Kyle Ohashi from Kent Fire has heard complaints about the company for years. The stories from residents in his district were problematic.
“They had a sales person come to their door. They turned down that sales person, but they were concerned for their neighbors also being solicited. So when they went outside, they found one of the sales people on their property with a drill in their hand. They were clearly trespassing, uninvited,” Ohashi explained.
In an email last summer to East Pierce Fire and Rescue Chief Bud Backer, Olin apologizes for “the misrepresentation of your fire department that was caused by a member of RED Safety.”
“Every incident that I’ve been made aware of has to do with sales tactics,” Renton Fire Chief Rick Marshall said.
Renton Fire Chief Rick Marshall is also Olin’s boss. Marshall says Olin made changes to his business and hasn’t violated the city’s code of conduct.
“From the time I became aware of it and became the fire chief until now, the changes have taken place and it’s starting to be reflecting in the fact that the calls are diminishing,” Marshall explained.
That is true. There are fewer complaints about Red Safety over the last few months.
Olin says the customers in our report have buyer’s remorse, and he is still requiring Van Dhyke, Mager and Tafoya to pay off the contracts they signed, regardless of the conduct of his employees.
“It’s just a disservice. It’s maddening, it’s frustrating and it’s sad,” Booth said.
In a statement to Jesse, Olin says:
“For every 1,000 happy customers of any business, there’ll always be some unhappy for a variety of reasons. If we receive a complaint, we check it out.”
Olin says he also ran a background check on O’Farrell in 2015 and it showed no felonies.
When Jesse called Mr. O’Farrell, he hung up. The company says it is re-evaluating O’Farrell’s status. A decision on his future is undetermined.