State officials say a sprinkler system, designed to suppress fires, might have helped to contain a fire in a city building last week. According to a statement released by the Vermont Department of Public Safety’s Division of Fire Safety, the fire was reported on Feb. 16 at Questech Labs, a business within GSM Properties on Park Street in Rutland.
The Rutland City Fire Department responded to alarms at the building about 8:50 p.m. The first of the firefighters who reached the scene said they heard fire alarms sounding and smelled something burning that seemed to be coming from the second floor. There were also light smoke conditions at the scene, the statement said.
Firefighting crew members noticed heavier smoke conditions and the sound of sprinklers dispensing water in the Questech offices on the second floor. Inside, they found two sprinkler heads had activated, which firefighters believed was responsible for extinguishing the fire within the room. The offices were ventilated by firefighters and the sprinkler system was turned off. Firefighters found no other fire within the offices.
The origin of fire was found next to a shop vacuum cleaner but the cause has not been determined and no estimate is yet available for the damage. However, initial reports indicate damage was limited to water and smoke inside the office. Rutland Deputy Fire Chief Brad LaFaso said Tuesday that he wasn’t one of the firefighters on scene Feb. 16, but he understood it was a small fire and there were no injuries involved in the incident.
The statement pointed out that GSM Properties is a large industrial building that provides space for Green Mountain Window, the Vermont Food Bank, Stratabond and Tatum’s Totes. The companies, which collectively employ about 85 people, were able to open as scheduled Feb. 17. “This event illustrates the benefits of a properly installed and maintained fire sprinkler system. The fire was contained to the point of origin, which minimized property damage, curtailed the risk to first responders and ensured businesses in the building could open as usual and employees had a place to work,” the statement said.
LaFaso called sprinkler systems “very important.” He said in many fires, the suppression system keeps the fire in check and limits the hazards the firefighters will face when bringing it under control. Michael Desrochers, executive director of the Vermont Division of Fire Safety, said he had been in the business for almost 30 years. Across that span, he has seen many examples that illustrate the importance of sprinkler system. “ Automatic sprinkler systems that are properly installed and maintained are likely to contain a fire to the point of origin, reducing property damage and loss of life. A properly installed and maintained sprinkler system will prevent flashover from occurring inside the structure, reducing the risk of first responders being injured,” he said. During a flashover, a number of very hot objects or surfaces can burst into flames in an enclosed area because of the high temperatures during a fire.
Desrochers said a fire department will likely use a lot more water to contain a fire than the amount of water from a sprinkler head. He pointed out that a sprinkler system can have an economic advantage by protecting buildings, many of them commercial, where people work. In a state such as Vermont, Desrochers said, they can also protect buildings with historic value that cannot be replaced. Many buildings, especially commercial buildings, may require sprinkler systems based on their use, size and commercial materials, Desrochers said.
A call to Questech was not returned on Tuesday. According to its website, the company makes decorative tiles based on hand-carved designs, made of “a proprietary composite that uses premium metal or natural stone” to be used in interior walls. The company has about 65 employees.
More information about sprinkler systems in Vermont is available online at www.firesafety.vermont.gov.