Historic Buildings Should Be Protected With Fire Sprinklers

ORLAND PARK, IL (April 17, 2019) – One day after the world watched the massive fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and people gasped as the iconic spire fell during the blaze, there was relief that there were no fatalities and news that the cathedral still stands and will be rebuilt. One of the many questions is: how can fires in historic buildings be prevented and how can valuable artifacts be protected?

Fire safety experts agree that the outcome would have been different if the cathedral would have been protected with fire sprinklers, yet so many historic buildings are not protected. Tragic fires like this should open the door to positive discussions where facts can be utilized to educate the public and elected officials about the important role fire sprinklers play protecting life and property.

Following the Notre Dame Cathedral fire, NFPA’s Robert Solomon, PE, posted an article in NFPA’s Xchange where he stated that fires in historic buildings are often difficult to judge, extinguish, or control. He said codes and standards can help minimize the impact of fire even in buildings that are more than 800 years old. Innovative and novel designs have allowed sprinkler systems to be retrofitted in these older structures. Measures can be taken to allow the delicate balance of providing fire protection and life safety systems that are both effective, yet minimally obtrusive. Maintaining the historic fabric of the structure is a critically important goal of the designer.

During a radio interview with WGN’s Steve Cochran, Dan Finnegan, SIEMENS Building Technologies Division, said fire sprinklers are available to protect all of these important cultural buildings. “They definitely will keep the fire in check to extinguish it and support the firefighters while they are doing their job,” he said.

“We look at our own Art Institute of Chicago. It is protected in all ways possible, between fire sprinklers, early warning detection and a clear agent suppression system to protect antiquities and the valuables that are of great importance,” Finnegan said.

Both Solomon and Finnegan referenced specialized NFPA codes that deal with historical buildings: NFPA 909, Code for the Protection of Cultural Resource Properties — Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worship and NFPA 914, Code for Fire Protection of Historic Structures. The requirements in NFPA 914 have been carefully evaluated by a committee of experts, and it specifically outlines measures that can be taken to protect historic buildings from fires, including installing automatic fire sprinklers.

Other historic buildings in the U.S. protected with fire sprinklers include St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. A sprinkler system was part of a monumental $177 million restoration project, the largest in the cathedral’s 135-year history. The Washington National Cathedral, built in 1912, located in Washington D.C., is installing sprinklers as part of a renovation spurred by damage from a 2011 earthquake.

Dan Finnegan’s radio interview with WGN’s Steve Cochran Show 4/16/19.

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