Beds Are Burning

It's a scene that should let no one rest easy: a mattress going up in flames in minutes. It happens thousands of times a year.

"You don't recognize who you are any more," says victim Mitchell Ritchie. "You go to sleep a normal person and I wake up in the hospital."

As CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone reports, Ritchie was 7-years-old when his mattress exploded in flames from a short circuit.

For the past 13 years, Ritchie has been undergoing treatments.

"I've gone through a lot of surgeries," he says.

"Mattresses are made of petrochemicals and cyanide," says attorney Whitney Davis. "Most people don't know this."

To the American mattress industry, Davis is the closest thing to the devil for his fight to make mattresses fire safe.

"They called me Satan at the last convention," says Davis.

"I have clients who have had to pick up their kids, who reached into flames and pulled their kids out," says Davis. "The kids are stuck to the bed. Their skin comes off in their parents hand."

Some 500 people a year die in mattress fires usually set by open flames like candles or by kids with matches. Federal regulators could order safer mattresses but haven't.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, Davis says, "has done nothing but study this. They have fiddled while America burns, while our children are burning."

In fact, its own reports show that for nine years the commission has been studying mattress fires.

Even the commission chairman Hal Stratton admits it's too long.

"It just takes forever to get these major regulations put in place," says Stratton.

So a frustrated Davis turned his attention to California. He helped push the state legislature to pass a new law requiring fire safe mattresses. But the victory has been short lived. The industry is fighting the regulations and they are still not in effect.

But now, one mattress maker has broken with the industry.

We believed it was the right thing to do," says Susan Ebaugh, vice resident at mattresses manufacturer Serta. "Making safer mattresses, buying time, that's what families want today."

Serta has started making fire safe mattresses that give a sleeper time to get out, and the company is still making money.

"We were able to make a mattress that was comfortable, affordable and above all, safe," says Ebaugh.

Will the rest of the industry follow? The sleep product association just recently said it would agree to a national standard if it is effective, practical and not too costly.

And the CPSC promises it too will act soon.

"And you're going to see the package on mattress flammability coming out in the fall," says Stratton.

Of course, new regulations won't give Ritchie back everything he's lost nor will they make existing mattresses any safer. Millions of Americans will still be sleeping at risk.
  • Jaime Holguin

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