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Sprinkler Success-Notre Dame

On Friday, March 22 at 8:50 a.m., a fire broke out in a sprinklered residence hall at Notre Dame University in Notre Dame, Indiana (www.nd.edu). According to Notre Dame Fire Department Fire Chief John Antonucci, the fire occurred on the third floor of one of the newer residence halls that had been built in 1996.

One of the occupants had left the room after using a hair dryer, which she left plugged in and on top of some plastic stackable shelves. Her roommate returned to the room after taking a shower and found the hair dryer sparking and smoking. She tried to unplug it, but was unable to do so. She then ran out of the room and called 911. The smoke detectors in the room were activated by the fire, and shortly afterwards the sprinklers in the room activated, extinguishing the fire. It was fortunate that the sprinkler system had been so effective in suppressing the fire and not requiring that the fire department have to manually extinguish the fire.

At the time of the fire, the city of South Bend was on the scene of a shooting where five people had been shot. “Mutual aid from South Bend would have been hard pressed to get there,” said Antonucci. In terms of damage from the fire, Chief Antonucci reported that “the room was power washed and given a coat of paint.” Any of the damage that occurred, other from the contents of the shelves, was due to the water discharge from the two extended coverage sidewall heads. Even though the computers had been damaged, they were able to recover the information off of the hard drives. Damage did not extend beyond the room, and the interruption to the other occupants of the dormitory was minimal. While this may seem like a “typical” sprinkler save, during the interview with Chief Antonucci some interesting information came forward. According to Antonucci, “Right after the Seton Hall fire occurred, I put together a proposal to retrofit the unsprinklered halls. I met with the vice president on Friday who then met with the university officers, and by the following Friday I had instructions to seek proposals with a completion date of August 2001.” At the time, 12 residence halls were fully sprinklered and 17 were equipped with partial sprinkler systems. “From May 15, 2000 to August 10, 2000, we did six residence halls. Over winter break, we did two more residence halls in 15 calendar days.” The remaining dorms were done from May to August 2001 over 88 calendar days. “We replaced 17 fire alarm systems during that time, too,” reported Antonucci. How was Notre Dame able to do the work so quickly?

“We were able to get into the residence halls and do the preliminary work such as the backflow preventors and standpipes during off hours. Once summer arrived, they were able to throw staffing at it seven days a week from 10 to 12 hours a day,” said Antonucci. During this time there were 12 to 16 pipefitters on the site. “We were able to fast track it by using CPVC piping. They did not have to fabricate a lot of pipe in the shop and send it out…they were able to do on-site fabrication,” continued Antonucci. “Reliable Sprinkler (www.reliablesprinkler.com) donated all of the sprinkler heads for the project,” which Antonucci believes numbered about 16,000 heads. What impact has this aggressive fire protection program had on campus? “Right after Seton Hall, I spent a month on the telephone with parents,” said Antonucci. “During the application process, the Admissions Office was forwarding calls to the fire department from parents wanting to know how the buildings were protected. This has become a concern for most parents. They have become more intelligent and aware.” Other schools have reported how fire safety is becoming a marketing tool, and Antonucci relayed such a story. “We just had a young lady doing her campus visit. She was considering Harvard, Brown and Notre Dame. She just emailed me that she loved Notre Dame and chose it because of the fire department and how aggressive Notre Dame is about its fire protection.” Enough said. Notre Dame Fire Department Notre Dame is one of a few schools in the United States with its own full-time fire department It has a history extending back 140 years when the Brothers used to staff the fire engines. Currently, it is comprised of 12 on-duty fire fighters and officers and 19 call fire fighters. NDFD provides full-time fire protection, EMS and fire prevention activities for the Notre Dame campus as well as St. Mary’s and Holy Cross College.

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