NFPA Journal

Sprinkler controls fire in assisted-living unit

Sprinkler controls fire in assisted-living unit

Tremblay, Kenneth J


A single sprinkler controlled a fire that began when a couch was intentionally ignited in an assisted-living apartment. No one in the unit was injured, and all the fire suppression and detection systems operated properly.

The complex, which had multiple additions, included an independent-living apartment building with 116 units and 51 assisted-living units. The fire occurred in the original structure, a steel-frame, four-story building, which had concrete floors and walls and a brick veneer. The building, which measured 200 by 50 feet (61 by 15 meters), had a metal-deck roof with built-up roof covering. Hardwired smoke detectors provided coverage in the common spaces, and the building was equipped with pull stations and a wet-pipe sprinkler system. A central station alarm company monitored all systems.

The fire was intentionally set in a second-floor unit, where it was discovered by an employee before the smoke alarm or sprinkler activated. Staff members removed the unit’s occupant and used the pull station, thereby notifying the fire department at 5:30 a.m. The sprinkler then activated, controlling the flames and preventing fire spread.

Fire crews’ response was upgraded when follow-up calls confirmed the fire. Upon arrival, firefighters were informed of a possible trapped victim and began a search and rescue. However, they were soon informed that the occupant was outside, so they proceeded to the unit of origin. Meanwhile, police officers worked with the facility’s staff to evacuate the other units on the floor safely.

By the time firefighters entered the room, little fire remained. They used a fire extinguisher to put out the flames, then shut down the sprinkler and started ventilation. A secondary search confirmed that everyone had been evacuated safely from the area.

The building, estimated to be worth $2.4 million, sustained only $2,000 in damage. The total value of the contents wasn’t reported, although losses were estimated at $1,000.

The fire department sought criminal charges of first-degree arson in this case, but the judge reduced the charges to fourth– degree arson due to the lack of structural damage.

Copyright National Fire Protection Association Mar/Apr 2002

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