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A Tale of Two Buildings - Sprinklered vs. Non-Sprinkered


Wednesday, July 29, 2009 Hanging price tags still dangled from sofas and love seats as Bremerton Fire Chief Al Duke passed through the Broyhill section of Arnold’s Home Furnishing’s on Monday.

But on the other side of a set of double doors lay destruction: charred beams and the remains of a lamp — it’s shade among the ashes.

“These fire doors actually work,” Duke said, surveying the damage beyond them.

The 58-year-old business, which suffered a huge loss Monday in one of Bremerton’s biggest fires, is a vivid example of the differences between old building codes and new, fire officials said.

Authorities are still investigating what caused the massive fire. Local fire investigators and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were on the scene Tuesday — standard protocol for such a large fire — and haven’t released any findings yet. The monetary damage has not yet been determined. Store employees are going through records to come up with an estimate on the value of inventory that was burned, according to Susan Erickson, one of the owners.

Arnold’s owners are working on setting up a phone number that customers with pending orders can call.

But looking at what’s left of the 66,000-square-foot complex, officials point to the two reasons the Broyhill Gallery was largely spared: a fire wall and sprinkler system.

“The only way you’d know there was a fire in here is the water on the floor,” Duke said.

When the Broyhill section was added on in 1994, fire codes required the fire wall and sprinklers to be installed. A facade upgrade also got sprinklers.

Other parts of the building — and the portion where the fire started — were built before such systems were required.

The fire side of the fire doors were wrinkled, buckled and charred.

“It was so hot back here the fire melted those magnetic door holders,” Duke said.

Duke said he can’t recall any fatal fires where sprinklers were installed. Over the years fire codes have required more systems, and a push is upcoming to have them installed in new homes, he said.

Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue Chief Ken Burdette remembered seeing a recent demonstration at Westpark in Bremerton, in which two units destined for destruction were set up identically, save for a sprinkler system in one.

Then they were burned. The outcome was predictable.

“It’s very dramatic,” he said. “Sprinklers are very effective. They save lives.”

In North Kitsap, recent fires in Suquamish and Kingston have devoured buildings without sprinkler systems. People build to the requirements of the day, North Kitsap Fire and Rescue spokeswoman Michele Laboda said. It’s no coincidence that older buildings without sprinklers are the ones claimed by larger fires, she said.

“That’s a clear illustration that fire sprinklers save,” she said.

A sprinkler often stops a fire from growing. But that doesn’t make the front pages.

“A whole lot of buildings are standing today because they were fully sprinklered,” she said.



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