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Fire Sprinkler Saving Lives

"Fire Sprinklers Out And About: Saving Lives At Our Hotels, Nightclubs, And Tourist Destinations"

Nobody who goes out for a drink at a club, stays a night in a hotel, or visits a tourist destination expects to die in a fire. Unfortunately, fire is all to common-even where we go to have a good time. Some of the century's most tragic fires have occurred in hotels. Museum and library fires can consume priceless historical artifacts-and despite this, many curators are reluctant to install fire sprinklers in historical buildings. And one of the most fatal fires of 2003 occurred in a packed nightclub.

Why Fire Alarms Aren't Enough:
The Story Of The MGM Grand Hotel

In 1980, the idea of a high-rise fire killing hundreds of people seemed unthinkable-especially in Las Vegas, Nevada. The city was too new-most of the buildings had been put up within the last few decades, when building and fire safety codes were strict. Most buildings were equipped with state-of-the-art fire alarm systems, and everyone felt safe.

They shouldn't have.

Late at night on November 21, 1980, some faulty wiring caught fire within the walls in the MGM Grand Hotel-one of the city's biggest and most high-profile hotel and casino resorts. The fire burned for hours within the walls in the hotel's deli without anyone realizing. At around 7 A.M. that morning, it broke out of the walls and rushed through the building, spreading at a rate of about six meters per second. It got into the air-circulation system and quickly traveled throughout the building, trapping people in rooms, stairwells, and hallways. Ultimately, eighty-seven people died in the fire.

This fire was tragic-and easily preventable. In 1972, fire authorities had ordered the hotel to install a fire sprinkler system. The hotel refused to pay for it, and a building official sided with the hotel. Fire marshals agree that a fire sprinkler system would have stopped this fire in its tracks.

Smoke alarms were installed throughout the building, but they failed to give any warning of the fire. Sadly, this is a common occurrence. Smoke alarms are in danger of failing, especially when the fire smolders for a long time without giving off a lot of smoke-or giving it off in an area that's blocked, so the smoke can't get to the alarm. That's what may have happened in this case-the smoldering fire didn't give enough smoke off initially to trip the alarms, and what smoke there was stayed behind the wall until it was too late.

Fire alarms can fail in residential areas, as well. In smaller homes and flats, smoke alarms are more likely to be set off accidentally due to smoking or cooking. This leads people to unplug them-and if they forget to plug the alarm back in, they're left unprotected in case of fire. A fire sprinkler system is much less likely to fail, because it relies on heat instead of smoke to set off the alarm. The fire sprinkler system is also in a position to act quickly and put out the fire before it spreads, as the one at the MGM Grand did.

In general, the MGM Grand fire provides us with an important lesson: you're not fully protected if you rely only on smoke detectors. A fire sprinkler system can save lives, and that's worth any expense.

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The Fire At Windsor Castle

The historic fire at Windsor Castle in 1992 is credited with bringing attention to the cause of fire sprinkler systems in heritage buildings.

The fire started in the Queen's Private Chapel when a halogen lamp ignited a curtain. The fire spread throughout the State Apartments. Over 200 firefighters arrived to control the blaze, but in the end, a number of apartments were gutted completely. The damage required extensive restoration.

And restoration wasn't cheap. The damage cost the crown millions. But no amount could make up for the loss of historic architecture. Many artifacts had been removed in time, but damage to the structure of the castle itself was extensive. The State Dining Room, the Grand Reception Room, and the Prince of Wales Tower were all devastated. Smaller areas including the Octagon Room, Brunswick Tower, the Great Kitchen, and many others-over a hundred in all-were damaged beyond recognition.

Firefighters agree that a single fire sprinkler head could have controlled the fire at the start. Since the Windsor Castle fire, fire sprinkler systems have been installed in several historic sites throughout the U.K. including the national libraries of Britain, Scotland, and Wales. A fire sprinkler system can protect historic landmarks that no amount of money could replace, without major structural changes to the building. Hopefully, the caretakers of our historic landmarks will continue to see the benefits of installing fire sprinkler systems.

A Tale Of Two Nightclubs

One February night in 2003, a band called Jet City Fix was playing at the Fine Line Music Café in Minneapolis. The band's pyrotechnics display started a fire onstage. Luckily, the fire was quickly controlled-and nobody was injured or killed.

Just a few days later, at The Station in Rhode Island, the band Great White was just starting their first set. Sparklers set off onstage set fire to packing foam that had been used to insulate the ceiling, igniting it almost immediately. The building was consumed in minutes-and over 100 people lost their lives.

Two similar nightclubs, two similar fires-why did one end with minimal damage and the other end in tragedy? The answer has nothing to do with luck or fate, and everything to do with fire sprinklers.

The Fine Line had combustible insulation foam in its ceiling, which was ignited by the band's pyrotechnics display-just like the fire at the Station. However, the owner had installed fire sprinklers in the building. They activated immediately, controlling the fire until firefighters could arrive.

The Station wasn't so lucky. While the fire was small, band members tried to control it by throwing bottled water on it-to little effect. The fire soon blazed out of control. It was a tragedy that could easily have been avoided if fire sprinklers had been installed-as the fire at the Fine Line shows.

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Fire In Paris Hotel Kills 15

The one-star Paris-Opera hotel caught fire at approximately 2 A.M. Some of the panicked guests-mostly immigrants waiting for housing-leaped out of windows in an attempt to escape. Many did not survive the fall.

The fire started on the first floor, but it didn't stay confined there long. It spread throughout the six-storey building via the stairwells, which acted like chimneys-providing the flames with a clear path to the upper floors. This is often how fires in multi-storey buildings spread, cutting off escape routes along the way.

Eyewitnesses were awakened that night by cries of "Fire!" and the smell of smoke. They saw people, including children, leaping out of the windows. One eyewitness account described bodies littering the ground in front of the hotel.

The hotel was not fitted with fire sprinkler systems, and local fire chiefs agree that had fire sprinkler systems been installed, the people who perished in the flames would still be alive today. The fire spread quickly in the unprotected building, however. The rescue effort included 250 firefighters and 10 ambulances.

A Wet-Pipe Fire Sprinkler System Causes More Harm Than Good In Museums... Or Does It?

On a hot July day in Dallas, Texas, a hundred firefighters fought to save the Biblical Arts Center. They lost.

Director Scott Peck described his attempt to save the Miracle at Pentecost, the museum's flagship piece-he grabbed a fire extinguisher when he saw the painting start to burn. But he couldn't control the fire, and had to flee the building.

Without a doubt, a fire sprinkler system would have stopped this fire before it did much damage-fire authorities and museum fire prevention experts agree. So why didn't this museum have a fire sprinkler system? And why are they so rare in museums?

The problem is that many museum curators fear the damage water could do to priceless artifacts. Some mistrust sprinklers because of common misunderstandings-the fire sprinkler system will trigger accidentally, damaging artifacts; or a fire in one room will set off the sprinklers throughout the building. Most are unaware that both situations are extremely unlikely.

In fact, the water damage a fire sprinkler system does to artifacts is minimal compared to the damage caused by firefighters. Most importantly, restoration experts are often able to restore artifacts damaged by water-but fire damage can't be repaired.

No matter where we go, there's a possibility we'll encounter a serious fire. It's clear that fire sprinklers are the best way to protect tourists, hotel and restaurant guests, and party goers from fire. Customers expect a safe environment when they go out to have a good time. And curators of museums, historical buildings, and libraries have the responsibility of protecting priceless artifacts from devastating fires. Fire sprinklers are the only way to do this effectively-without loss of life, and with minimal property damage.

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