Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fire, Flood and Communication

Today's Sentinel story about the flooding and electrical condition inside Mesa State's Tomlinson Library had me scratching my head more than usual this morning.

In what could have been a tragic repeat of the Thanksgiving 2007 incident at Grand Junction High School, flooding caused by a fire sprinkler that popped when a bearing overheated in the Library's generator room put quite a bit of water in the first floor of the facility.

After reading that this situation went undiscovered until employees arrived to open up on Sunday morning, I immediately wondered why the sprinkler water flow, and subsequent alarm activation, went unnoticed until somebody showed up at the building.

In my experience, these types of alarms would normally generate a signal at a monitoring center, who would then notify the Fire Department, along with the owner's representative and/or site maintenance. At the least, there is usually some type of external signaling device, such as a bell (powered by the water flow) ringing to indicate that the sprinkler system has been activated. These capabilities are typical of buildings that are protected in accordance with local building and fire codes.

I decided to seek clarification and additional information, and found a willing and informative source in Mike Page, the Public Information Officer (PIO) for the Grand Junction Fire Department. He enlightened me with the following information:
  • Mesa State, like other State-owned institutions, is exempt from much of the local fire codes, but does "work closely" with local authorities to assure that their buildings are well protected.
  • A single sprinkler head can dispense as much as 25 gallons of water per minute, which is a significant amount over any period of time.
  • New commercial construction that is built to meet current fire code typically requires the building's fire alarm system to be monitored by an outside service. This includes any building that is sprinkler-protected.
After speaking with Mike, I contacted Kristi Pollard, Mesa State's Development Director and acting public affairs person today. I asked about the seeming lack of alarm monitoring, and why the Library's alarm would not be monitored, especially in the context of yesterday's incident.
Ms. Pollard replied with the following:
"Mesa State College does not currently have an automated system that will contact the fire department. However, during the summer MSC will be undertaking a controlled maintenance system project that will be updating all of MSC's aging monitoring systems with state-of-the-art systems that will all be linked together on the college's fiber network."
I then confirmed with Ms. Pollard that the new project would provide for 24-hour monitoring of these alarm systems. She stated "that's correct". Ms. Pollard also added that the Library was slated to re-open today.

While this is all good news, it is long overdue, and there still isn't any guarantee that a monitored alarm condition would result in immediate notification of public safety resources. A call to the maintenance person on campus (or maybe even on call) could conceivably be considered as sufficient. The need for immediate fire response will hopefully be made very clear by the GJFD when the time comes, with this incident as a benchmark.

This all could have been much worse, and needs to be a continued reminder to facilities operated by our varying levels of government that in the response and mitigation areas it's best to play by the rules established by the locals.

Saw the new Star Trek movie tonight with Evan, my brother Dave and his wife Lan. Pretty darned good, a little melodramatic and contrived in parts, but worth a second sit-through.

This was a healthy diversion from being glued to the TV watching the Penguins lose in overtime to the Capitals (arrrgh), extending what has been a war of a playoff series to a decisive Game 7. I think the phones will be shut off on Wednesday night.

Graduation day is tomorrow. A lot of emotion coming from many corners, locally and otherwise, and this corner is no exception. More to say in words and pictures tomorrow. Time to get some sleep.

Have a good week.

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