GIFD Pushes Sprinkler Use After Downtown Fire


Firefighters estimate the cost of a devastating Downtown Grand Island fire at more than $1 million.

G.I. Fire Chief Cory Schmidt said Monday that the building that housed four businesses, including Ron’s Transmission, was valued at $600,000.

Three businesses were destroyed.

A week after the fire at 612 West 3rd Street, fire officials pushed the sprinkler systems they believe would have saved the building.

"Had this entire building been protected by a sprinkler system it'd still be standing," said Schmidt.

Two rooms did have sprinklers. Fire officials said the difference between them and those rooms without is clear.

"The paint is still on the wall. There's a garden hose hanging up. There's a wheel cover that's made out of vinyl,” said Schmidt. “Typically those things in the fire are gone very early on."

G.I. Building Department Director Craig Lewis said about 275 Grand Island buildings have sprinklers. He said many without are older structures downtown.

Some of those do have shared basements though – a concern for firefighters.

"Should a fire get into an area like that, we'd have a very hard time stopping it," said Schmidt.

A fire wall stopped the July 13, blaze from claiming a fourth business. It’s a feature Lewis said many downtown buildings should have.

"The fear is that often times they become compromised or breached where somebody will put a hole within the firewall to pull out duct work or cabling or something like that; and that's what worries us most," he said.

Amos Anson is putting both a firewall and sprinklers in his latest downtown project – Tower 217.

However, down the street, another one of his buildings doesn't have sprinklers and it's not required to.

"It comes down to money. Renovating a building downtown is expensive and when you add another $30,000 to $70,000 to $100,000 for fire sprinklers it makes a lot of projects unable to cash flow," said Anson.

He said life safety upgrades aren’t the only issues keeping people from developing downtown, but they are a piece. Anson said, in a large renovation, sprinklers can be a small percentage of costs.

He is working with G.I.’s downtown, city council and the C.R.A. to make sure grants currently available for improvements can be used for life safety upgrades like sprinklers.

"Sprinklers save lives, but there is a cost,” said Schmidt. “We feel that those costs are far outweighed by benefit when something catastrophic does happen."

He said the U.S. Fire Service has not reported a death when sprinklers are working properly.

Chief Schmidt said thanks to the addition of a life safety inspector last July, they've been able to do fire inspections every three years.

They'd like to add another inspector to get that knocked down to every other year.

That information is then available to firefighters arriving on a fire scene. But, fire officials said the data doesn’t automatically go from the inspection to the system. That’s another issue G.I.F.D. hopes to change.

Hastings Fire inspects every two years, but officials there said that's become more difficult after the department took on ambulance service.

Hastings fire officials said, like Grand Island, many older downtown buildings are getting sprinklers as they’re renovated.

Many downtown buildings have sprinklers in their basements because of an old requirement aimed at saving people in windowless rooms.

Hastings officials said schools like Hastings Public, Hastings College and Central Community College are retrofitting sprinkler systems in their buildings to keep people safe.

Kearney’s building department did not return calls to NTV Monday.