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FEMA Grant Helps Funds Fire Sprinkler System for Wheeling’s Last Unprotected Fire Station

The Wheeling Fire Department and the Village itself have been advocates for fire sprinklers dating back to the 1980s, so it was no surprise when Fire Chief Keith MacIsaac advocated for Fire Station 23, which was built in 1978, to be retrofitted with fire sprinklers. After all, Fire Station 23 was the only one of the Village’s three fire stations and the last Village-owned building remaining without fire sprinklers.

MacIsaac is a 2004 recipient of the Wayne Luecht Memorial Award, which recognizes members of the local fire service who personify the spirit and dedication to fire prevention and increase the use of fire sprinklers in their communities. He and other fire officials wanted to protect the highly trained personnel who work and reside in the 6,700-square-foot fire station, as well as the $2.5 million in expensive and unique public safety equipment that is housed there.

The riser for the fire sprinkler system in Wheeling Fire Station 23.

“A loss of a fire station and its equipment would have a drastic negative impact on the community’s overall emergency operations and the overall safety of the community,” he says. “In addition, replacing a fire engine or ambulance can sometimes take up to a year since each one is custom built.”

To fund the fire sprinkler retrofit project, the Wheeling Fire Department applied for and received a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “Assistance to Firefighters” grant on the basis of enhancing firefighter safety and protection of vital community assets. After the fire department received bids for each portion of the retrofit, the FEMA grant funded approximately 75%, while the Village agreed to provide the remaining funds.

From the beginning of the retrofit, fire sprinkler contractors completed the project in phases due to the necessity of the building remaining operational 24/7. The phases allowed for personnel and equipment to be shifted around in order to maintain emergency operations, a reasonable living environment and to cause minimal disruption to the installing contractors.

The fire sprinkler system that protects Wheeling Fire Station 23 and the personnel that work in the building.

Additionally, the fire department’s fire inspectors knew the fire sprinkler contractors from K & S Automatic Sprinklers through coordination on previous fire sprinkler installations within the community. That existing relationship resulted in excellent communications throughout the project and allowed for minor issues to be resolved quickly.

In approximately a one-month period, fire sprinklers had been installed throughout the fire station, protecting the apparatus bay, living spaces, office spaces, and the personnel that work in the building daily.

“This clearly shows how serious the Village of Wheeling is about advocating for life safety and making the Village a safe place to live, work and visit for over 40,000 residents and 80,000 workers,” notes MacIsaac. “When we require a new business to install fire sprinklers in their building, we can now point to all three of our fire stations as an example of how we lead.”

The Village of Wheeling has been progressive with fire sprinkler requirements for decades. It has been a leader within not only Illinois but also the nation by requiring fire sprinklers in residential properties such as single-family homes since the early 1990s. The Village further solidified its fire sprinkler codes by recently upgrading its codes to the 2012 versions of the International Code Council‘s codes. With local amendments to strengthen the national model codes, the code upgrades requires fire sprinklers in all new buildings regardless of square footage or occupancy classification. The only exceptions are in smaller detached residential sheds and garages. The Village also requires fire sprinkler retrofits for all occupancy classifications at varying trigger points.

“Our statistics have shown that with good codes and standards, good enforcement, and an increasing amount of fire sprinkler-protected properties within our Village, the number of fires over the last 15 years has steadily decreased. The amount of fire loss is also decreasing with a total fire loss of less than $500,000 in 2012,” says MacIsaac. “Fire sprinklers make fire situations less dangerous for our firefighters and less devastating for the property owners.”

“We wish to commend the Mayor and Village Board in Wheeling for protecting their Village’s buildings and residents with fire sprinklers,” adds Tom Lia, executive director of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board. “They have followed recommendations in FEMA’s “America Burning” report to use fire sprinklers as a community’s first line of defense against fires.

 

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