Second wave of sprinklers wreaks havoc in Mission

Much to their surprise, sophomores shuffling down to dinner in their flip-flops last Tuesday were greeted by a closed dining hall, the result of a plumbing accident in the kitchen area.

On Tuesday at 3:31 p.m., Security received a Code One from Mission, signaling a fire alarm. The alarm sounded after a sprinkler in the kitchen storage area was activated, unleashing a surge of water into the kitchen.

The event stemmed from the Mission renovations that began this past summer. During construction, workers moved the compressors from within the coolers to the outside of the building. With the compressors removed, the coolers no longer had an internal source of generated heat. Workers should have boarded up the open-air vents to prevent the incident.

After surveying Tuesday’s scene, plumbers blamed the temperature for setting the sprinkler off. They believe that the one-and-a-half-inch pipe leading up to the sprinkler head had frozen and cracked as the pipe thawed out with the rising temperature.

Buildings and Grounds (B&G) now realizes that the temperature in the coolers needs to be kept above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. To prevent another disaster, all of the vents bordering the ceiling of the coolers have been boarded up.

“[A frozen pipe] is not at all unusual for this campus or for any building. It is a fact of life for this climate,” said Michael Briggs, construction supervisor for the Mission project.

Yet most frozen pipes cause problems on a smaller scale. This year, B&G has dealt with several frozen lines that lead to sinks, showers and dishwashers.

While B&G’s patchwork may prevent a future episode, the burst pipe has already caused significant damage. Unlike the solitary sprinkler in the previous Mission incident, an alarm caused the sprinklers in all four coolers and freezers to release water, showering the evening’s meal and other stored food. Cutler estimates that Dining Services lost about $3,000 in food.

The dining hall was closed for three meals, leaving students to trek in the cold to other dining halls, which were forced to accommodate an influx of people. “Things like this occurrence are hard to anticipate. The staff appreciates student understanding that we are doing our best,” said Bob Volpi, director of Dining Services.

In the meantime, Mission Dining Hall staff spent hours cleaning up the mess. Since all of the compressors and fans needed to be shut off, any salvageable food in sealed containers was moved to the freezers in Baxter on Tuesday night and transported back to Mission in the morning. The staff spent about 15 hours cleaning up the mess.

As Cutler pointed out, it appears ridiculous to even need sprinklers in a cooler. “You could throw in there a couple of logs with lighter fluid, but there would not be enough oxygen for them to burn,” he said.

But state law mandates that any building with a sprinkler system needs to extend the system to the coolers and freezers. Oddly enough, while the law requires that sprinklers be added to coolers if a sprinkler system is in place, there is no law that requires a dormitory to have a sprinkler system. The College brought the building up to code as part of the renovations.

Security gives absolute priority in responding to fire alarms coupled with an activated sprinkler system. A sprinkler system is only set off by an active fire and whether or not a fire exists, security must respond immediately to a burst sprinkler head because of the amount of potential damage. Briggs explained that 25 gallons of water can be released from a sprinkler per minute.

Early in January, the same sprinkler head burst when a dining hall staff member bumped it. The damage in that case was isolated to only one cooler. That incident closely followed another episode in Williams Hall, where a pulled sprinkler head created havoc and resulted in about $11,000 in damage.

“The teamwork of the staff as a whole was incredible. Everyone reacted very well especially since they had seen it a month ago,” said Michael Cutler, manager of Mission.

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