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Safety strides at UNC Greek houses help extinguish fire

Posted April 12, 2011

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— Safety improvements made since a fatal fire at a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill fraternity house more than a decade ago helped stop a Monday fire at a UNC frat house from spreading.

Chapel Hill Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Matt Lawrence said a small personal electric fan fell onto a bed, heated and ignited a fire at the Sigma Chi house, at 102 Big Fraternity Court, on Monday afternoon.

The building's sprinkler system extinguished the fire.

All fraternity and sorority houses at UNC were required to have sprinkler systems following an early-morning fire on May 12, 1996 – it was both graduation day and Mother's Day – at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house. Investigators determined cigarettes in a trashcan sparked that fire, which killed five people.

In addition to the sprinkler system, all Greek houses at UNC are inspected twice a year, and each house has its own student fire marshal.

"I have no doubts that sprinklers in fraternity houses are a great idea," said sophomore Justin Miller, whose bed caught fire at the Sigma Chi house.

Miller said he went upstairs to get some cold medication and noticed the fire.

"I kind of froze up, and black smoke hit me in the face," Miller said.

Miller said it took about two minutes for the heat to trigger the sprinkler system. Water soaked the building down to the basement.

There were no injuries.

Sprinklers extinguish UNC frat house fire Sprinklers extinguish UNC frat house fire

"(I'm) pretty fortunate. Luckily, I wasn't up there sleeping," Miller said.

Due to electrical concerns, the power to the building has been cut off until clean-up can take place, Lawrence said. The fire caused about $15,000 in damage.

Miller said the university is helping the residents of the house find temporary housing.

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  • bnitin Apr 19, 2011

    Keeping all the arguments in mind. Perhaps, it is a good system.

    Fire risk assessment

  • colemanfamilytx Apr 13, 2011

    The earlier post isn't accurate. Wet and dry systems both have similar heads with a glass bulb or fusible link that open at a designed temperature. A dry system contains air in the piping and are used in areas subject to below freezing temperatures. The air is expelled when a head fuses and water fills the piping for discharge. The earlier post is referring to a pre-action system which is normally in high value areas where you need assurance before an activation. Most require an additional smoke or heat detector activating before water can be discharged.

  • colemanfamilytx Apr 13, 2011

    It depends on whether the system is "wet" or "dry". In a wet system, each sprinkler head has a temperature sensitive metal "fuse" that will burn at a certain temperature and allow the water to flow from that head only. In a dry system, the heads are activated by another source, ususally a smoke detector or heat detector. The dry system does not have the metal "fuse" and all heads activate together. Some people call these types deluge systems. Most industrial and commercial buildings are the wet type, where water is in the pipes all the time. The dry system is used outdoors where the pipes are subject to temperature extremes that will cause the water in the pipe to freeze.
    songdemon
    April 12, 2011 5:25 p.m.

  • bru333 Apr 12, 2011

    Once the sprinkler system is activated, water will continue to flow until it is manually shut off. The story says the fire was upstairs, so even if the sprinklers only went off in the room with the fire in it the downstairs would have extensive water damage.

  • unc_student Apr 12, 2011

    It will soak the entire house--not just the room in which the fire occurred

  • songdemon Apr 12, 2011

    It depends on whether the system is "wet" or "dry". In a wet system, each sprinkler head has a temperature sensitive metal "fuse" that will burn at a certain temperature and allow the water to flow from that head only.
    In a dry system, the heads are activated by another source, ususally a smoke detector or heat detector. The dry system does not have the metal "fuse" and all heads activate together. Some people call these types deluge systems.
    Most industrial and commercial buildings are the wet type, where water is in the pipes all the time.
    The dry system is used outdoors where the pipes are subject to temperature extremes that will cause the water in the pipe to freeze.

  • dwntwnboy Apr 12, 2011

    Question- and maybe someone out there knows. When a sprinkler system like this goes off, does it just go off over the fire or does it trigger the ENTIRE building sprinklers to activate as well? Just wondering about how they work- $15,000 seems a high number for a bedfire...unless of course, other rooms were soaked as well.