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Fire marshal says sprinkler system turned off before organ pipe company fire

Doug DeHaven's office determined blaze started in paint booth

January 12, 2011|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown Firefighter David Poffenberger uses a saw to cut open and vent a metal wall Thursday while battling a blaze at the former M.P. Moller Pipe Organ factory at 403 N. Prospect St. in Hagerstown.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — The water supply for the sprinkler system at an organ pipe company in the old M.P. Moller Pipe Organ factory had been turned off before a fire broke out in the city facility last Thursday, leading to the rapid spread of the blaze, Hagerstown City Fire Marshal Doug DeHaven said Wednesday.

The fire, which his office has determined started in a paint booth, would have been better contained had the water not been turned off to the sprinklers, Dehaven said.

"Most likely, it would have been out" by the time firefighters arrived, he said.

Instead, the fire at Eastern Organ Pipes Inc. spread into upper levels of the structure, making it increasingly difficult to extinguish, fire officials said last week.

About 50 firefighters responded to the scene at 403 North Prospect St., and it took three hours before fire officials declared the blaze under control. A damage estimate was still not available Wednesday.

One employee of the organ pipe company was treated at the scene for minor burns.

The old organ factory is where Eastern Organ Pipes Inc. makes organ pipes. The company also paints pipes for organs.

DeHaven said he has asked employees at Eastern Organ Pipes and the owners of the building about water being turned off to the sprinkler systems. He said his office is "verifying things they told us."

DeHaven, who could not provide the names of the building owners, declined further comment.

Workers with Eastern Organ Pipes Inc. said at the fire scene last week that the blaze started in the area of the paint booth.

Frederick Morrison, a co-owner of Eastern Pipes, said a painter was cleaning out his spray gun when he saw a "flash." DeHaven said his department's investigation determined the fire started in the paint booth but the source of the fire is unclear.

The paint booth was 14 feet wide, 10 feet deep and 7 feet high, DeHaven said.

He said paint buildup and filters that prevent paint overspray and vapors from being released into the air helped fuel the fire.

One of the owners of Eastern Organ Pipes said Wednesday that his company did not have control over the building's sprinkler system.

When Eastern Organ Pipes installed its paint booth in the building, the booth had a self-contained sprinkler system that was connected to the building's existing sprinkler system, Delphin Frushour said.

Frushour said he assumed the building's existing sprinkler system worked.

There were a variety of officials, including a representative from city government, who determined how the paint booth needed to be connected to the sprinkler system, Frushour said.

"We did everything according to code. We never altered anything," Frushour said.

Frushour said he assumed the owners of the building have the responsibility of maintaining the sprinkler system.

The Herald-Mail could not determine Wednesday who owns the building.

The building is currently condemned until utilities and fire protection systems can be restored, Dehaven said in a news release.

When the fire began spreading in the building, heavy gray smoke billowed from openings in the metal-sided addition as firefighters attacked it from above with a ladder truck and on the ground.

Firefighters cut holes in the metal siding and shot water through the openings to fight the blaze.

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