This article was originally published in the Idaho State Journal on March 23, 1993.
Most buildings lack systems
By Juanita Rodriguez
Of the Journal
Don Jones says Pocatello did not need to lose the landmark Chief Theater.
The retired Pocatello fire Chief said Monday that an automatic sprinkler system might have put out Saturday’s fire before structurally damaged the building beyond repair.
Jones, who retired as fire chief in 1989 after a 25-year career with the department, said to his knowledge, there are other buildings of historic or architectural value in Pocatello not protected by sprinkler systems.
The include the old Carnegie Library at Garfield and Center, the building the city plans to incorporate into a new public library; the Bannock County Historical Society at Upper Ross Park; the historical Stanrod House, 648 N. Garfield Ave.; the current Pocatello Public Library at 812 E. Clark St.; portions of the Bannock County Courthouse on Sixth and Center and several churches.
Jones said during his years as fire chief, no one from the Chief Foundation even approached him about the feasibility and need to install a sprinkler system in the theater. He now commutes to Idaho Falls, where he works.
“The concert was how can we get into this with the least amount of cost. Sprinklers were never discussed with me,” Jones recalled.
He said he isn’t trying to point a finger or blame anyone, but he believes city and county officials must begin protecting the taxpayers’ assets.
“Enough is enough. I know I am going to get a lot of calls about this, but we’ve got the technology at hand and it is time to get it into our buildings,” Jones said.
He said the response from county museum officials was that sprinklers “were not a high priority.”
Fred Winward, building official for the city of Pocatello said he doesn’t know for sure whether the Chief was equipped with a sprinkler system.
“I’m sure if it had been, we’d still have a building today,” Winward said, adding, however, that about 90 percent of the buildings downtown” don’t have such systems,
Jones said it costs about $2 a square foot to install automatic sprinkler systems. A number of other restored buildings have been retrofitted. He said such systems do not need to be unsightly.
He said piping does not have to go inside walls and piping can be color coded or otherwise camouflaged to blend in with the building decor.
What such systems buy is valuable time with a minimal amount of water damage. Jones said sprinklers discharge 25 gallons of water per minute compared to one fire hose which projects 200 gallons a minute or 3,000 gallons per minute at maximum capacity.
Because only sprinkler heads in a fire area go off, water damage can be minimal once the sprinkler system triggers a response through the 911 emergency system, Jones said.
“I think we have to stop thinking about getting pretty drapes or brand new seats and carpeting. We need to protect vulnerable buildings from a disastrous fire and think about the nice seats later,” Jones said.
As a citizen with a background in fire prevention, Jones said he doesn’t believe taxpayers’ money should be invested in new building projects until there is an effort made to protect buildings against fire.