The best way to deal with fire is to prevent it, of course, but there’s a case to be made for limiting potential suffering and damage from the get-go.
That was the thinking at Boston Land Company, a full service real estate development, investment, syndication, and property management firm with offices in Boston and Waltham, Massachusetts. The company manages 3,000 units of housing and 40,000 square feet of retail and office space across five eastern states.
Not long ago, Boston Land Company hired Piping Systems, Inc. to handle the design and installation of a full-scale sprinkler piping/fire protection system at the Taber Mill Apartments on Deane Street in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
While smoke detectors have been required in all apartment complexes since 1980, an additional Massachusetts law went into effect in 1990, requiring cities and towns to install automatic sprinkler systems, but only in newly constructed buildings. The Taber Mill Apartments building, a former textile mill renovated for residential use, had been grandfathered in under New Bedford’s municipal code and was not required to have a sprinkler system.
Turning former textile mills into housing has become a recognizable trend in New Bedford and environs in recent decades. The trend had historical underpinnings. As one scholar writes, “In the mid-1800s, cities like Lowell [Massachusetts] already had a thriving textile industry, but New Bedford was still riding high as the whaling capital of the world. Then, in 1858, the first oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania, and whaling was doomed. The whaling merchants who reaped huge profits needed new places to invest their money, and decided to build textile mills in New Bedford.”
New Bedford was an excellent choice, not a random one. The city was ideally positioned, with an impressive port and easy access to rail transportation. It also had an influx of young women who were Today, the Taber Mill Apartments — a handsome and commanding three-story red brick building built in 1906 — offers both 151 units of housing and a glimpse back in time to New Bedford’s storied textile history. Our work at Taber Mill began in 2015 and was completed in 2017. needed to operate the mills.
According to Greg Brewer, Project Manager and Service Manager at Piping Systems, Inc., the installation took more time than would be required in a vacant building. “We knew this was going to be a tough job,” noted Brewer. Because all of the apartments were occupied, coordination between Boston Land Company, residents, and the PSI team was necessary. Project engineering services were provided by Richard E. Cummings, P.E. of Cummings Engineering Company.
“During our work, all of the apartments were occupied,” noted Brewer. “Our technicians worked around the occupants to install the sprinkler heads in each apartment. We also worked above the ceilings where the space was covered with insulation. There was very little space above the ceiling and our field crew worked mostly off of staging planks in the tight space to install the sprinkler piping. Several ceiling penetrations were unavoidable due to the tight working space and were promptly repaired to the owner’s satisfaction.”
The building was a change from the usual structures PSI has outfitted with sprinkler systems. “Normally, our work environment is in a commercial building or a manufacturing facility,” Brewer said. “This project required working in a very different setting. Most of the installation was performed above finished hard ceilings.” Specialty catwalks were constructed to move in the spaces between the flooring where the sprinkler mains were required. Specialty fastening systems to anchor the piping was required because of the building’s mill construction.
Prior to our work at Taber Mill, a partial sprinkler system had been installed in 1979 to protect the corridors and stairwells. But none of the occupied living areas were protected, nor was the basement crawl space. An original set of hand drawings were used by PSI to make a complete set of CAD drawings of the entire project. These drawings were required for engineering and permitting purposes. In addition, PSI worked with the New Bedford Fire Department to ensure the design and installation met both National Fire Prevention Association mandates and local fire protection regulations.
Not every day was easy. The project required a committed crew willing to handle the routine work apartment-by-apartment, as well as to work in the high summer temperatures in the attic area. Coordination with residents was a daily challenge, as well. But the ‘can-do’ attitude of the Boston Land Company and PSI team made all the difference on this project. A terrific working relationship with Wayne Martin, Regional Superintendent of Taber Mill, was a great benefit.
“The Taber Mill project was a substantial project as it involved installing a sprinkler system to a 150 occupied elderly housing complex without displacing any tenants during the process. It included basement and attic crawl spaces as well as above all apartment rooms and closets, no matter how small they were. The guys on site were great and the job went smoothly even with the many obstacles and issues that occurred as we worked together to make things flow you might say,” notes Martin.
Brewer credits choosing a crew that sees the glass half full to the success of this difficult project. He also added, “Wayne and his staff were great to work with, especially with the scheduling of tenants. We just work well together.”
Martin adds, “From Mike Moreira to initiate the designing and setting up the work schedule, to Greg and Gerard working with me on a daily basis to keep work moving and on schedule with safety always in mind, the project was a success from beginning to end. I’d like to personally thank them all for their input and would highly recommend PSI for any work someone would need.”
Fires are disastrous. And once firefighters arrive, they are often in a position where they can only try to limit loss, not
prevent it. Statistics show that commercial fire sprinkler systems are one of the best methods of fire prevention
available. Here are five benefits associated with our commercial fire sprinkler systems:
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has no record of more than two deaths in a fire when the building had a functional sprinkler system in place. Fire protection services save lives and can help those evacuating get out of the building safely.
A sprinkler system can not only save lives, it can reduce damage to your property. It’s worth the routine maintenance costs to install and monitor an effective sprinkler system.
For the amount of protection you’ll be getting and money you’ll be saving in the event of a fire, sprinkler systems are one of the most cost efficient, high benefit improvements owners can make to their properties.
Once installed, fire sprinkler systems only require inspections periodically to confirm functionality. Most systems go 20 years or more without needing any major repairs or upgrades.