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Sprinklers not required in older buildings, chiefs say

January 16, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Like the five-story apartment building in Huntington, W.Va., where at least nine people died in a fire Saturday, some buildings in Berkeley and Jefferson counties do not have sprinkler systems, local fire chiefs say.

Officials said the Saturday night fire in Huntington began in a second-floor unit, shooting flames and smoke up utility access channels to the upper floors.

The building did not have a sprinkler system. While sprinklers are not required under state law, smoke alarms are, fire officials said.

A recent change in state law now requires sprinkler systems be installed in multiple-story, multiple-occupancy buildings being constructed, said Ed Smith, chief of the Independent Fire Co. in Ranson, W.Va.

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But multiple occupancy buildings constructed before the new state law do not have to use sprinkler systems, unless major alterations are made to the buildings, Smith said.

The apartment building in Huntington was built in 1924. The building housed city residents as wells as students from Marshall University. The fire was the worst in Huntington in nearly 50 years, officials told The Associated Press.

Smith said at least two older apartment complexes in Jefferson County do not have sprinkler systems and were built before state sprinkler laws were changed.

Some apartment buildings in Martinsburg also do not have sprinkler systems, said Andrew DeHaven, assistant chief of the Bedington Volunteer Fire Department.

It is a situation that concerns fire officials, DeHaven said.

"Anytime you have high occupancy, that's always a concern," DeHaven said.

The only residence halls at Shepherd University with sprinkler systems are the recently-opened Birch Hall and Maple Hall apartment complexes on the West campus, said Dan Yanna, director of facilities at the university.

All the other student housing complexes have a supervised fire alarm system, Yanna said. If a smoke alarm goes off in the system, it sends a signal which activates an alarm for the entire building, Yanna said. It also sends out an alert for a fire department to be notified, Yanna said.

One of the reasons other dormitories on campus do not use sprinkler systems is because they are mostly masonry buildings, Yanna said.

Most of the academic areas at the university are protected by sprinkler systems, Yanna said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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