The words “Rieger Dry Goods” in faded, red letters is still legible over a doorway in a State Street building on the Decatur Square, and signatures, some dating to the late 1800s, are visible where they were first etched in a second story window frame on Trinity Street.
Local history is not lost on Deputy Fire Chief Deroy Bennett, and in an effort to preserve it, as well as make downtown buildings safer for citizens and firefighters, he would like all structures on the Square protected with sprinkler systems.
“Just look … you see the historic value of these buildings,” he said, standing in what was most recently Floors N More. “If this building was to burn down, you can’t replace it. It’s not modern construction. You can’t put this work value back into it.”
Three buildings on the Square recently have been retrofitted with sprinkler systems – 109 N. State St. (formerly Floors N More), 113 N. State St. (formerly South Beach Taco) and 106 N. Trinity St. (soon-to-open Reunion on the Square).
Building owner Mark Moran installed a system in the old Floors N More and extended it into the neighboring building, which housed the eatery.
“For me it’s because it’s on the Square,” he said. “If one goes, they all go, and for me it was good timing … With Fuzzy’s coming in here, it worked out well.”
“When I really regretted not doing it was when South Beach was under construction,” he said. “That was my opportunity because you can’t do it with tenants. So once Floors N More closed, that gave me the opportunity (to install the system.)”
The system riser, a vertical pipe that “rises” from the water supply to the pipes in the ceiling, was installed in the back corner of the building, which was once a department store. The riser also has a control valve, and it must be in a climate controlled space.
The sprinkler system branches into the neighboring building, and Moran said it will be a benefit if another restaurant moves into that space. He owns the other buildings north to the end of the block, and he wants to eventually expand the sprinkler system to all as opportunity allows.
“This is the only building (Floors N More) that we could put the riser room, so this is like the Mother Ship,” Moran said with a laugh.
Bennett said normally every building has its own riser, but since multiple neighboring buildings are owned by the same person, using just one is a way to save money. And it doesn’t affect the way the sprinkler system works.
Building owner Martin Woodruff has the same plans for the east side of the Square along Trinity Street. He installed a sprinkler system during the remodeling of 106 N. Trinity St., as required by the city, in preparation to open Reunion on the Square.
The riser is in the back of the building, but he plans to expand from that to protect the entire east side, all of which he owns.
“Between Martin and Mark, it’s a huge step toward (protecting) the Square,” Bennett said.
Woodruff and Moran also recognize that buildings with sprinkler systems are more marketable to potential tenants. Main Street Manager Frieda Hanley said just last week the lack of a sprinkler system deterred a restaurant from moving downtown.
Although the city currently doesn’t offer incentives to businesses to install sprinklers, Bennett said he “constantly looks for ways to find those incentives.”
New construction of a high occupancy building or one that will contain hazardous materials is required by city ordinance to have a sprinkler system.
Bennett said many building owners are intimidated by the cost. A typical system costs $10 to $13 per square foot, but Bennett said it also saves money in insurance premiums.
“I tell people ‘look at your insured value, look at what replacement value would be and then look at what you would save on insurance monthly,’” he said.
Bennett said he recently helped a local church get credit for its sprinkler system with its insurance company, and it has saved the church $400 per month in premiums.
The number of buildings with sprinkler systems also affects the city’s ISO (Insurance Service Office). The ISO is based on the fire department’s ability to protect the city, and “every time buildings are sprinkled, that gives us credit” and the potential to improve the ISO, Bennett said.
A lower ISO means lower insurance premiums for everyone – commercial and retail building owners, as well as homeowners.
Bennett noted another benefit is that sprinkler systems generally contain the fire to one area, and damage is less.
He said there is a 50 to 70 percent reduction in cost to repair a sprinkled building after a fire compared to a non-sprinkled one.
For example, according to the National Fire Protection Association’s statistics between 2003 and 2007, it cost $44,000 to repair fire damage to a store or office without a sprinkler system compared to $26,000 for a “sprinkled” one.
It cost $42,000 for a non-sprinkled restaurant or bar, compared to $12,000 for one with a sprinkler system.
Bennett encourages building owners to contact him if they’re interested in installing a system because he can help them navigate the regulations and city permits.
He also works to ensure once someone has a system installed that all the requirements are met so that they get credit with their insurance company.
“I’m often chosen as the one that makes people spend money, but in reality, I’m bringing things to their attention to make sure they get the ultimate credit.
“The bottom line is (sprinkler systems) protect property and save lives.”
LET US DEMONSTRATE …
Thick, black smoke billowed into the sky just south of Decatur last Tuesday, but this wasn’t a typical house fire. It was a live burn demonstration.
Former County Fire Marshal Marc Dodd conducted it to show the effectiveness of sprinkler systems.
Two rooms were set up identically with dry wall, curtains and furniture, but one also had a sprinkler head installed. Trash in a wastebasket was lit to intiate the fire in each room, and Decatur firefighters were on hand to douse the blaze.
The room without a sprinkler head was lit first. It was allowed to burn until it flashed back, or until the gas emitted by the burning objects caught fire, and then firefighters put it out. The room and its contents were destroyed.
A fire was lit in the exactly same way in the second room. The sprinkler head went off one minute and 30 seconds into the burn, and it put out the fire.
Dodd said most fires are controlled with one to three sprinkler heads.
“Most people think that when one head goes off, they all go off, but that’s not true. They’re individually triggered,” he said.
Martin Woodruff, who recently installed a sprinkler system at 106 N. Trinity St., watched the demonstration, and said “it serves to confirm that the decision we made was a good one.”
“You may have water damage, but it’s not complete destruction like we saw in the first room,” Dodd said. “There’s water damage, but the structure is intact.”
“So these save lives on top of saving property,” he said.