Dishwasher Maker Admits Some Catch Fire

Some owners being offered refunds, but not everyone is happy with the offer.

Pam Racevicious’s KitchenAid dishwasher is a smoked-out, charred mess. It caught fire last year when the Woodbury mom was home alone.

“I opened it up and it was spewing water and there were flames. They were contained, but they were coming out of the front panel of the door,” she said.

We first told you Pam’s story back in February, when an NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters investigation turned up several local homeowners with the same problem.  

It happened to Bethany couple Mike and Laura Katzmark’s dishwasher, and to West Hartford resident Ann Gelinas.  

“The smell was horrific. Unless you experience it, it’s unlike anything else. You can’t believe the ‘Oh my gosh, what if?’ scenario,” Gelinas said.

All the homeowners believed the fires in their dishwashers started because of a defect inside the control panel. And  they were only three of hundreds of KitchenAid customers who posted their stories on the website  A class-action lawsuit has also been filed claiming Whirlpool, the parent company of KitchenAid, knew of the problems but did nothing about them. When the Troubleshooters demanded answers from Whirlpool, we were told the company was investigating. 

Two months later, the Katzmarks heard from the company.

"We had done the report with NBC News and all of a sudden, out of the blue, they called,” said Mike Katzmark.

"I never got a phone call returned, and now they want to replace my dishwasher,” said Pam.

Replace it, free of charge. NBC Connecticut has learned Whirlpool is calling customers, offering an apology, an explanation, and reimbursement.

"And when you heard that, what was your first thought?" asked Troubleshooter Sabina Kuriakose.

"Um, better late than never. It's been 18 months,” answered Pam.

The customers we spoke with said that in their phone calls with Whirlpool, the company has admitted that the fires may have been caused by steam getting into the dishwasher’s control panels.  And although they’ve been offered full refunds and replacements, the homeowners we spoke with said something still doesn’t sit right with them.

"I think that they should step up to the plate and figure out how to do a recall,” Gelinas said.

“I saw smoke and then flames, like fire. Coming out of my dishwasher!” said Holly Salegna.

The Norwich mom believes a recall could have prevented a dangerous situation inside her home.  Holly said her KitchenAid dishwasher caught fire in February -- just after the Troubleshooters first report aired.

"Do you feel Whirlpool put your family at risk?" asked Troubleshooter Sabina Kuriakose.

"Absolutely. I have three small children, I have one child with special needs. Verbally, it would take him a lot to express, ‘Mom, there's in the kitchen.’”

Whirlpool said it does not believe a recall is necessary.  

"We found only two dishwashers where the built-in safety features did not contain the heat damage inside the unit. In those two instances, minor heat damage occurred on the outside of the dishwasher. We've shared the results of our investigations with the appropriate government safety agencies and we will continue to monitor the safety performance of our dishwashers,” the company said in a statement.

For at least one dishwasher owner, the full refund comes with a stipulation.

"I definitely would have to sign a waiver if in fact I was to accept a reimbursement,” Gelinas said.

The waiver bars Gelinas from taking part in legal action against the company. Gelinas was the only person NBC Connecticut spoke with, who said she was asked to sign such a document.

The refunds are not enough for the fire victims who came forward to NBC Connecticut.  They continue to believe other Whirlpool customers are in danger of losing their homes, or even their lives.

"People rely on them all the time. They leave their homes, they go to sleep.  They run these appliances,” said Gelinas.

"This can happen with my mother, [who] has a KitchenAid, I have a sister who has a KitchenAid. They've had KitchenAid, KitchenAid dishwashers for years,” added Salegna.

"God forbid somebody ended up with a fire in their house and they couldn't get out. That'd be tragic,” said Mike Katzmark.

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