Officials extol benefits of sprinklers |

Officials extol benefits of sprinklers

Naomi Havlen

As Bill Seawell allegedly poured gasoline around the Aspen Country Inn early Monday morning and set four fires in two different buildings, fire sprinkler systems were going off behind him.It’s what saved lives and property damage from the suspected arson, said Aspen Volunteer Fire Department officials.”We want to extol the virtues of fire sprinkler systems,” said Aspen Fire Marshal Ed Van Walraven. Since the mid-1980s, he said, the department has been advocating sprinkler systems “because they work and because they save lives.”It’s not often that local fire officials see a perfect example of sprinkler efficiency, but earlier this week Seawell, a resident of a local housing complex, allegedly set multiple fires around the complex before hanging himself in his own unit. At almost every blaze, sprinklers had extinguished or contained the flames by the time firefighters arrived.”It’s not just about the safety of the residents, but also about the safety of the firefighters,” said Deputy Fire Chief Orrin Moon. “If you have a sprinkler holding the fire at bay, it’s a heck of a lot safer than entering a fully engulfed room.”Moon said damage was minimal from the separate fires all over the Aspen Country Inn. The buildings suffered some water and smoke damage, but not much fire damage. Residents were back in their units by 2 p.m. “It could have been major damage – everything could have gone to the ground,” Moon said.Another benefit of sprinkler systems is their connection to alarms, able to audibly notify residents and to send alerts to authorities. However, fire officials note that when a fire alarm sounds, occupants of buildings don’t always evacuate immediately like they’re supposed to. On Monday morning, a number of Aspen Country Inn residents initially stayed in their units rather than leave the building.Van Walraven refers to sprinklers as “instant firefighters.” Real firefighters must arrive on scene and hook up to a hydrant before putting out a fire, he noted.Insurance rates often drop as a result of putting in a sprinkler system, he said.Van Walraven and Moon said a fire activates only the sprinkler heads closest to the blaze, not all the sprinklers in the system. Even so, water damage is usually preferable to the aftermath of a fire.”I would much rather explain to people why their house is wet and a little fire damage than explain why their life’s memories just went up in smoke,” Van Walraven said.And building owners who already have sprinklers installed should get the systems checked once a year, he said.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is

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