Sprinkler safety revisited after Byrne Oaks mishap

Late morning on March 2, the fire alarms went off in the Byrne Oaks Apartment Complex on campus. The culprit was not a fire or a person, but rather a failed sprinkler head in the rafters that discharged and caused the sprinklers in a third floor apartment to go off. As a result, three Byrne Oaks apartments experienced water damage.

“It has been some time since our last sprinkler discharge,” Assistant Dean of Students Molly Burrows Schumacher said, “and there have not been prior issues on campus involving failed sprinkler heads. We have had prior sprinkler discharges in other campus areas — some the result of an actual fire, others the result of student behaviors that damaged the system and triggered the discharge.”

However, the sprinkler system itself is in fine condition. Assistant Vice President John McDermott said that the attic system will be recharged with a glycerin system (designated non-hazardous by the NFPA), and diluted with water in order to repair it.

If no additional issues arise, students from all three affected apartments will be able to move back in within the month of March. Displaced students have been relocated temporarily to the Visitation. Apartment 105 will tentatively be able to move back in on March 8, Apartment 205 on March 10, and 305 on March 15.

The school is working with local company Steamatic, which is a company that provides water damage restoration services. Steamatic uses drying and monitoring equipment that will assist in restoring the structure of the property as well as salvaging valuable possessions. Carpets are extracted first. Industrial dehumidifiers are added to quickly remove the excess moisture from the environment next. An inspector then visits to test the walls, ceilings, floor, etc. to analyze the moisture content. Next the walls are removed to the studs in order to prevent mold from developing. New walls are then re-installed, new ceilings are hung, tape joints and mud are put in and the walls are repainted.

To avoid accidentally setting off the delicate system, students should not hang things on the sprinkler pipes or sprinkler heads. Though permitted, items using projectiles such as nerf guns, magnetic darts, etc. should also be used with caution. However, burning candles are not permitted in on campus apartments as the open flame could ignite papers, blankets, clothing and more that are sitting nearby. Even in houses where candles are permitted, they are generally suggested to be avoided.

“Students’ personal possessions are not covered by the College insurance, and the College cannot assume responsibility for damage or loss to student property resulting from fire, theft or any other cause. All students are encouraged to check their family’s homeowner policy for coverage of personal possessions while at college,” The Loras College student handbook says.

Students living in on campus housing are able to purchase renter’s insurance if they so wish, and some choose to do so if they are not covered by their parents’ homeowners’ plans. It is wise for students to look into whether or not they are covered by any sort of plan prior to moving into on campus housing. Students are encouraged to keep this in mind, especially as housing registration for the fall will be taking place after Spring Break. Any questions about this topic can be directed to  any member of the Residence Life staff.

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