A first-year student pulled off a sprinkler head attached to the fire-suppression system on the third floor of Williams Hall last Wednesday night, causing flooding and significant water damage to the floors and electrical and phone systems. Dave Boyer, associate director of Security, set initial estimates of the cost of the water damage at $10,000 to $12,000, but suggested that costs of labor as well as actual equipment replacement could easily increase the final cost.
According to Boyer, security officers dispatched to the scene discovered evidence of an illegal party in progress on the third floor, but did not actually see the students drinking. “This wouldn’t have happened if alcohol hadn’t been involved,” Boyer said, when asked if the student responsible had been intoxicated.
A student apparently reached up and grabbed the sprinkler head, which was recessed into the ceiling. When he pulled on it, the head broke off the sprinkler system pipe, spraying water into the room. Boyer said that the amount of pressure in the sprinkler system is such that several hundred gallons of water can be discharged in a matter of minutes. By the time the system was shut off, several inches of standing water covered the floor.
Because Security quickly identified what caused the sprinker to go off, the fire deptartment was not notified. However, security officers were dispatched immediately to the scene.
From the third floor, water migrated downward through the stairwell as well as into other channels like conduits containing phone, data and fire-suppression system wiring. The water short-circuited several different wiring systems, and telephones in the majority of the building were still disabled as of press time.
Penetration of water into mechanical spaces leading to the building’s central control panel for the fire control system also deactivated the system’s fire detection and suppression components. The fire control panel is located in the basement of the building and the wiring conduits leading to it are not waterproofed.
As a result of the deactivation of the fire control system, Boyer said the security department implemented a fire watch contingency plan, which required the presence of Security officers patrolling the building from the hours of 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. to ensure prompt reaction to any possible fire. Boyer emphasized that the fire watch was necessary to ensure vigilance against fire during a time when many students are not entirely aware of their surroundings.
The student responsible for pulling off the sprinkler head has been identified. “In the early morning [following the incident], we started to conduct an investigation, but a student came forward and wrote a statement,” Boyer said. The student will have to bear the cost of all repairs.
Boyer said the high cost of repairing the damages results from the extensive repairs and part replacement required. The water caused substantial buckling to the hard wood floors on the third floor, which will have to be replaced. Portions of the wiring in the flooded electrical conduits will also have to be removed and replaced. In addition, initial estimates for repairing the fire control panel were higher than the cost of purchasing a new panel, which had to be ordered and transported directly from the system’s manufacturer in Connecticut. In addition, the total cost is augmented by the high labor cost of replacing the ruined portions of the hardwood floors, transporting the new control panel to campus and imposing the fire watch.
The flooding also caused damage to personal possessions lying on the floor, but Boyer said he had not received an official list of damaged items. Several students had to move out of their rooms while the area was cleaned, and while the water has been cleaned and dried, odors still remain.