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"Throw Some Cold Water On Your Face"

Whenever I was tired and felt as if I just couldn't finish my homework at night, my mom would always say, "throw some cold water on your face and that will wake you up."  My mom was always right.  I'd take her advice and sure enough, I'd feel refreshed and be able to complete the studying I didn't think I could finish.

Well, on Saturday, December 10, 2005 at 10:50 p.m., cold water on the face of a Riepe College House student residing in the McIlhenny building of the Quadrangle was a definite wake up call.  A wake up call that saved him from serious injury and most likely saved his life. 

That life saving and heat absorbing cold water on the student's face originated from a sprinkler head.  A heat-sensitive sprinkler head connected to a system of pipes and valves filled with pressurized water from city water mains that activated when the ceiling temperature in room 107 of McIlhenny reached 155 degrees.  An activation that resulted from the heat produced from a burning mattress where the student laid in a very sound sleep.

It only took one sprinkler head to control the fire; it only required one sprinkler head to avert a tragedy.  That single activation discharged water that woke up a student allowing him to escape the smoke-filled room without serious injury; it released water that controlled the spread of the fire protecting the living spaces of many other final exam prepping students.  The flow of water initiated the activation of the building fire alarm system allowing residents to evacuate the building while notifying the Divisions of Public Safety and Facilities and Real Estate Services of a crisis in the building.  The building fire alarm activation resulted in the notification of the Philadelphia Fire Department to respond to the Quadrangle to finish the job of extinguishing the fire.  That sprinkler head worked as designed; that sprinkler head did its job.

Sprinkler systems are sound investments.  The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has no record of a fire killing more than two people in a building that has complete sprinkler system where the system was properly operating, except in an explosion or flash fire or where industrial fire brigade members or employees were killed during fire suppression operations.  The trustees and administration made sound investments a few years ago when they allocated funding and established an aggressive sprinkler system installation schedule for every residential building at Penn.  That sound investment paid its dividends in this crisis and one other fire in the Stouffer College House in February of 2005.

When I responded to the Quadrangle on the night of December 10th and found out how the student had escaped the fire, I thought of my mom's words about waking up by throwing cold water on my face.  My mom was always right.  Likewise, sprinkler system installations are the right decision too because these systems inject an appropriate amount of water to control a fire before it grows out-of-control.  By controlling a fire in its incipient stage, the University of Pennsylvania saves lives, protects property, and maintains business continuity allowing this great institution to continue with its dual missions of education and research.

Gene Janda, Deputy Chief, Fire and Emergency Services


Fire and Emergency Services (FES) is a department contained within the Division of Public Safety.  FES works continuously with the Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services to promote the installation and ensure the reliability of the most state-of-the-art fire detection and suppression systems for the protection of the Penn community.  Also, FES is responsible for emergency preparedness on campus.  For information about your fire protection or emergency preparedness, please call FES at (215) 573-7857 or visit the Division of Public Safety website at www.publicsafety.upenn.edu.

  Almanac, Vol. 52, No. 24, February 28, 2006


February 28, 2006
Volume 52 Number 24


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