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Sprinkler Soaks Fairlee Town Hall with 6,000 Gallons of Water

  • Fairlee Selectman David Colby points while describing the flooding at the Town Hall with Wendell Woodward, a builder from Orford. Behind them is the malfunctioned sprinkler that caused water damage in the building.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Fairlee Selectman David Colby points while describing the flooding at the Town Hall with Wendell Woodward, a builder from Orford. Behind them is the malfunctioned sprinkler that caused water damage in the building.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Fairlee Selectboard Chairwoman Mary Daly was turning off the heaters that were being used to dry the second floor of the Fairlee Town Hall. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Fairlee Selectboard Chairwoman Mary Daly was turning off the heaters that were being used to dry the second floor of the Fairlee Town Hall. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Keisha Covey of All-Access Infotech walks down the stairs of Fairlee Town Hall yesterday. Covey’s company does IT work for the town. Behind her was Lance Colby from the Fairlee Water Department. On Sunday a sprinkler malfunctioned causing flooding in the building. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Keisha Covey of All-Access Infotech walks down the stairs of Fairlee Town Hall yesterday. Covey’s company does IT work for the town. Behind her was Lance Colby from the Fairlee Water Department. On Sunday a sprinkler malfunctioned causing flooding in the building. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Fairlee Selectman David Colby describes the flooding at the Fairlee Town Hall to Wendell Woodward, a builder from Orford. At right is Allen Colby, of Fairlee, who had stopped by to speak with the Town Clerk. A sprinkler in the building malfunctioned Sunday, causing flooding in the building. Binders of town records were drying on tables in a room that had extra heaters running. (<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Fairlee Selectman David Colby describes the flooding at the Fairlee Town Hall to Wendell Woodward, a builder from Orford. At right is Allen Colby, of Fairlee, who had stopped by to speak with the Town Clerk. A sprinkler in the building malfunctioned Sunday, causing flooding in the building. Binders of town records were drying on tables in a room that had extra heaters running. (
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Land records sit on tables to be dried at the Fairlee Town Hall, (<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Land records sit on tables to be dried at the Fairlee Town Hall, (
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Fairlee Selectman David Colby points while describing the flooding at the Town Hall with Wendell Woodward, a builder from Orford. Behind them is the malfunctioned sprinkler that caused water damage in the building.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Fairlee Selectboard Chairwoman Mary Daly was turning off the heaters that were being used to dry the second floor of the Fairlee Town Hall. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Keisha Covey of All-Access Infotech walks down the stairs of Fairlee Town Hall yesterday. Covey’s company does IT work for the town. Behind her was Lance Colby from the Fairlee Water Department. On Sunday a sprinkler malfunctioned causing flooding in the building. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Fairlee Selectman David Colby describes the flooding at the Fairlee Town Hall to Wendell Woodward, a builder from Orford. At right is Allen Colby, of Fairlee, who had stopped by to speak with the Town Clerk. A sprinkler in the building malfunctioned Sunday, causing flooding in the building. Binders of town records were drying on tables in a room that had extra heaters running. (<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Land records sit on tables to be dried at the Fairlee Town Hall, (<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

(Originally posted online Thursday, Jan. 10. Updated to reflect the Jan. 11 edition of the Valley News.)

Fairlee — A waterfall doesn’t belong in the middle of Town Hall. Neither does a river or a salmon ladder.

Those, however, were descriptions offered by town officials yesterday as they recalled the deluge of water that gushed from a second-floor sprinkler early Sunday morning, damaging floors, ceilings and some equipment on its determined journey into the basement.

“We knew that something was terribly wrong because water was coming through the ceiling in a big fashion,” said Fire Chief Larry Farnham, describing what he and two other firefighters found in the first-floor Grange Room on Route 5 shortly after arriving on scene at 5:20 a.m. “When we opened up that door (from the Grange Room to the hallway), I don’t want to exaggerate, but it was like a wall of water. It was like 2 or 3 inches of water that had built up there, and it all rushed in. ... It was up over the toes of your shoes.”

All told, the sprinkler released an estimated 6,000 gallons of water spewed into the building at a rate of 150 gallons per minute.

Selectboard Chairwoman Mary Daly said a frozen sprinkler is the suspected culprit behind the 40-minute deluge.

The dispatch center in Hanover received an automated alert at about 5 a.m. that a sprinkler was activated, and Farnham was notified within minutes, he said.

After determining there was no fire, Farnham described sharing an “eery” feeling with the other two firefighters, Deputy Chief Win Ameden and Farnham’s son, Tyler, as they sloshed through the nearly 100-year-old building’s darkened hallways with flashlights.

At the stairway, he said, “it was cascading over the edge and coming all down the stairs,” he said. “It looked like a salmon ladder at that point.”

Selectman Dave Colby, also a volunteer firefighter, arrived on the scene soon after with keys to the basement, allowing them to turn off the water from the sprinkler at about 5:40 a.m.

The official cause and costs of the flooding are still being determined, but Selectman Frank J. Barrett estimated damage would likely range in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“It’s just going to be massive amounts of damage,” he said.

For at least a few months, town business will be conducted across Main Street in the old Third Rail restaurant building. Daly signed a four-month lease yesterday for the town to rent the vacant space, and she expects they will begin their move-in on Tuesday.

Daly credited Town Clerk Georgette Wolf-Ludwig with expertise and quick thinking that helped save important legal records locked in the town vault. Administrators originally thought the documents were spared harm, but later realized that condensation had saturated the books.

“She immediately had all the books taken out of the vaults, stood them up in the Grange Room and opened them up so the air could get to them” and turned on a dehumidifier, Daly said. “Georgette was so knowledgeable and got it done immediately; it really saved the situation.”

A computer, copier and smaller miscellaneous items were lost to the flood, Daly said, but most of the damage was confined to the building’s wooden floors and metal ceilings. Wall damage was minimal, she said.

Barrett, a former Selectboard chairman, said renovations in 2007 included installing the sprinkler and fire alarm systems and rewiring the building. The town recently nominated the building to the National Register with an eye toward earning funding for further improvements, he said, and is awaiting response from Vermont’s Division of Historic Preservation.

Clean-up work continued yesterday, Daly said, with fans running to continue airing out the building as the town prepares to contact general contractors for reconstruction.

“Everybody’s pulling together and getting the job done,” Daly said.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.

Related

Letter: Don't Blame Sprinkler Systems 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

To the Editor: I was saddened to read the Valley News story about water damage from fire sprinkler systems to the Fairlee Town Hall (Jan. 8) and Newport’s Richards School (Jan. 29). The damage was extensive, no doubt about it. But a system’s components are too often blamed for such malfunctions, particularly when there was no fire or people present …