Too often, discussions about whether to retrofit buildings with fire sprinkler systems are argued in terms of budgets and building codes. When that happens, what’s really at stake can be overshadowed.
However, on Nov. 14, 2016 in Massachusetts, the stakes were made very clear.
That morning at the Bruce School (grades 3-8) in Lawrence, Mass., a fire ignited in a second-floor classroom. Luckily, there was an assembly at the time on the first floor, so the classroom was empty and all 538 students and 70 teachers were safely evacuated. The school does not have sprinklers and the two-alarm fire took 45 minutes to bring under control. It caused an estimated $300,000 damage and classes had to be moved to other schools.
Later that morning, a fire was set in a second-floor faculty lounge bathroom at the Hayden Rowe Street School in Hopkinton, Mass., about 50 miles away. That school did have a fire sprinkler system, which extinguished the blaze. There was only minor damage and school was back in session about an hour after the fire.
The Bruce School in Lawrence was built in 1954, 21 years before the state building code went into effect. It is one of five school buildings in Lawrence that do not have sprinklers, while the majority (28) are equipped.
Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts State Fire Marshal’s Office, said that there were 149 school fires in 2015, causing an estimated $6.8 million in damage.
Examples like this should never be forgotten when fire sprinkler system retrofits are discussed.