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Fire Marshal: sprinkler could've limited fire damage at Wyo. College.

POWELL, Wyo. (AP) -- State Fire Marshal Jim Narva thinks an automatic sprinkler system could have prevented a Northwest College dormitory fire from spreading beyond one room.

Bridger Hall, which is a total loss from the recent fire, was not required to have a sprinkler system.

Narva said sprinkler systems save lives.

"I understand there's a cost that goes with it," he said. "But when you compare it to a lost building or a lost life, I don't know how you put a price on that."

At press time, the issue was expected to come up during the late-April meeting of the presidents of Wyoming's seven community colleges.

"Sooner or later you could have a situation where you don't have a sprinkler system and it could be very serious," said Richard Gilliland, commission director.

The fire broke out on the second floor of the dorm, which housed 101 students. Four students were treated for breathing problems but no one was seriously hurt.

Fire officials believe the fire started with an electrical appliance.

"If there had been a sprinkler system present and it was functioning properly, it would have most likely extinguished the fire and contained the damage to that room," Narva said.

Like most states, Wyoming has no law requiring all college dorms to have sprinkler systems. Bridger Hall was built in 1966, more than 20 years before the state fire code required dorms to be built with sprinklers.

Several states have looked at retrofitting college dorms with sprinklers, but only New Jersey requires it.

Wyoming community-college leaders met in October 2001 to discuss a funding request to install sprinklers in the older dorms. The bill never got off the ground in the Legislature.

"There's more awareness than there was four years ago," said Ed Comeau, director for the Center for Campus Fire Safety, a group that monitors college fires.

He said sprinkler systems respond immediately and reduce the time between the start of the fire and when it is first hit with water.

"Students live in close proximity to each other. If a fire occurs, the chances of multiple injuries or fatalities is high," Comeau said. "Fortunately that didn't happen in Powell, but that's not always the case."
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Publication:Community College Week
Geographic Code:1U8WY
Date:Apr 26, 2004
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