American Water Heater Co. announced its answer to the industry problem of home fires from flammable vapors with the release of the Flame GuardT Safety System at this year's National Hardware Show in Chicago.

With more than 60 million homes using gas-fired water heaters, American felt a need to address the problem of water heater-induced home fires with safer water heaters. According to the Johnson City, Tenn.-based company, more than 75 percent of vapor fires result from improper storage of flammable liquids - such as gasoline, paint thinners or solvents - which can be ignited by a gas water heater's burner or pilot. The Flame Guard Safety System is the first of its kind to reduce the risk of these type of fires using a patented combustion chamber and flame trap.

Tiny slots in the flame trap prevent burning vapors from escaping back into the room where a fire could spread in seconds. A patented thermal switch inside the combustion chamber triggers a shut-off valve to the pilot light, disabling the water heater and allowing the flammable vapors to burn themselves out.

Southcorp Australia Pty Ltd., an affiliate of American, invented the Flame Guard technology in its Sydney laboratories in 1995. American worked with members of American Gas Association Research Inc., the Gas Research Institute and Arthur D. Little Inc. during the testing process. After extensive testing at special facilities, Flame Guard was found to exceed test standards expected to be established by ANSI in 2001, according to American.

American has licensed the Flame Guard Safety System and will introduce two gas water heater models incorporated with the new technology this month. The Flame Guard logo will appear on American products and packaging.

In August, American Water Heater Co. was awarded the Chairman's Safety Commendation by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for its introduction of technology to reduce home fires from gas water heaters, which cause nearly 2,000 fires, 320 injuries and 20 deaths a year, according to the CPSC.