Plastic hand on stick given out to test fire alarms
Plastic hands on sticks are being given out as fire alarm testers by the Mid and West Wales Fire Service.
Designed to be used to check ceiling mounted alarms are working, the brigade spent £17,500 on 10,000 sticks to be given to elderly or infirm people.
Fire service bosses said 18% of house fires its crews had attended had alarms that did not work.
But critics said people could use their own finger or a broom handle to test an alarm instead of the £1.75 sticks.
The fire service said it had given out the "simple and functional hand held pointers" as part of its safety drive with the slogan "Point the finger at safety - push the button not your luck".
It said the sticks, which are a little over 2ft (60cm) long, were aimed at helping elderly people or those with mobility problems to test their smoke alarm without having to stand on a stool or stepladder.
The fire service said that despite an estimated 86% of homes having a smoke alarm, the alarms were often not tested.
But the cost of the sticks was criticised by fire authority member Gordon Walker after it was revealed in a Freedom of Information request by South Wales Evening Post.
He told the newspaper: "It is an absolutely ridiculous waste of money, particularly when budgets are so tight for public services.
"All people have to do is use a broom handle or something similar."
However, Rob Quin, corporate head of risk at Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, told BBC Radio Wales: "We've identified the need to do something to raise the profile of alarm testing.
"The fact that these testing sticks are quirky is not an accident. It's a deliberate ploy to get things talked about and that's certainly been the result in this case."
He said the sticks were given out to eligible people during home safety checks.
Mr Quin added: "We don't want to encourage them to climb step ladders and we don't want them using their walking sticks or brooms as it has been suggested.
"We need to encourage people to test alarms and remind them of the need to, and I'm not sure that somebody standing at the top of the stairs - particularly an elderly person - with an upside down sweeping brush is the most effective way of doing that."
A Welsh government spokesman added: "We have allocated a total of £900,000 to all three fire and rescue services in Wales through our Community Fire Safety grant. It is a matter for the rescue services to decide on the equipment they require."