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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