When five students died tragically in a fire at the University of North Carolina, Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., embarked on an ambitious program to retrofit all campus housing with fire sprinkler systems.
The university was limited to working on the project from mid-May to mid-August, when the number of students requiring campus housing was greatly reduced. Two buildings were completed during the first summer, then four in the summer of 1998, and six in 1999.
Challenges with Steel Sprinkler Systems
The first residence hall at Wake Forest was retrofitted with a steel fire sprinkler system, which proved to be time and labor intensive. The design of the steel fire sprinkler system required extensive field survey, and could not be performed until students vacated the residence halls for summer recess. Furthermore, design and fabrication pushed the installation period dangerously close to the date students returned from summer vacation.
Other challenges with retrofitting older residence halls such as at Wake Forest, include installation tight against exposed ceilings, installation in small spaces above existing dropped ceilings, and field revisions due to unforeseen obstructions.
Soffiting, painting, and alarm work had to be added to the already tight construction schedule. As a result, Wake Forest University officials were forced to consider limiting the size and scope of the work scheduled for each summer to ensure completion before the fall semester.
Contractor Recommends BlazeMaster CPVC Fire Protection Systems
When Worsham Sprinkler won the contract for the Wake Forest Student Apartments project in 1997, they recommended an alternative pipe to alleviate some of the challenges faced in the first installation. Worsham had used BlazeMaster® CPVC pipe in similar jobs, and they knew it led to faster, easier installations.
“We advised Wake Forest to use a BlazeMaster CPVC System to ensure that the installation could be done on time and without the problems associated with the design and fabrication of steel pipe. We also wanted to demonstrate to Wake Forest the features and benefits of a BlazeMaster Fire Sprinkler System.”
- Carl Jackson, Vice President for the Charlotte office of Worsham
Following the Student Apartments installation, Wake Forest sent some of its staff to visit a nearby university, where BlazeMaster Fire Protection Systems were being used for a dormitory retrofit. Recognizing that the retrofit proved successful in large, older buildings, the Wake Forest staff approved BlazeMaster Fire Protection Systems for all campus housing.
BlazeMaster CPVC Pipe Enters Residence Halls
In 1998, Worsham retrofitted two residence halls, totaling 100,000 sq. ft., with BlazeMaster CPVC pipe and fittings. During the summer of 1999, they completed three more residence hall retrofits; Kitchin, Poteat and Huffman—a total of 132,000 sq. ft.
Because CPVC pipe does not require pre-fabrication, the design time was reduced and field installation began immediately after the students vacated the residence halls. Field changes were made quickly and easily with CPVC pipe. BlazeMaster pipe was installed in many spaces where rigid, threaded steel pipe would have required difficult, costly cutting and re-threading.
Other advantages of BlazeMaster CPVC pipe are long-term reliability due to its corrosion resistance, low flame spread, low smoke emission levels and designed for a 50 year service life based upon a safety factor of 2. CPVC piping lasts much longer and requires less maintenance compared to metallic piping systems.
In one summer, Worsham installed approximately 1,600 sprinkler heads, consisting of 800 heads to NFPA 13 standards in Kitchin, and 800 heads to NFPA 13R standards in Poteat and Huffman. The entire fire protection retrofit, including sprinklers, smoke detectors, painting and clean up, took just eight weeks during summer recess.
BlazeMaster CPVC Fire Sprinklers Put To The Test
In March 1999, a smoke detector tripped the fire alarm in one of the Wake Forest student residences. When the fire department arrived at the scene, they found one sprinkler head had operated and extinguished the fire - with no injuries and minimal damage costs.
“We realized just how dangerously close we came to a tragedy that night. We believe the safety of our students comes before any price and the fire sprinkler retrofits were a small cost compared to the peace of mind of the parents of our students and our school administrators.”
- David Brown, Manager of Safety and Environmental Affairs at Wake Forest University
BlazeMaster CPVC Used For Another Summer Retrofit
In the summer of 2000, Wake Forest completed the final four campus housing retrofits using BlazeMaster CPVC. The ambitious program which started in 1997 has been an unqualified success. The total cost of the fire protection program was minimal compared to the cost of losing students and damaging buildings as a result of fire.