Sunday, April 6, 2014

Why another Fifth Third Ballpark fire would be unlikely to inflict damage of January blaze


Matt Vande Bunte | mvandebu@mlive.comBy Matt Vande Bunte | 
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on April 06, 2014 at 7:03 AM, updated April 06, 2014 at 7:13 AM

Fire at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. (Cory Morse |

PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, MI - If the fire sprinklers at Fifth Third Ballpark had not malfunctioned, the first-base concourse would not have burned three months ago. And if firefighters could have accessed water inside the stadium, the Jan. 3 blaze would not have grown as rapidly as it did.
That’s the assessment of Plainfield Township Fire Chief Dave Peterson.
Now, team officials, public safety leaders are making three significant, though virtually unnoticeable, changes to address shortcomings that threatened Tuesday's opening day for the West Michigan Whitecaps:
• Standpipes, where firefighters can hook hoses into the stadium’s fire-suppression system, have been installed.
• Part of the stadium’s fire-suppression system has been rebuilt.
• Additional fire hydrants are planned to encircle the stadium.
“What played into what was lost was the fact there weren’t standpipes,” Peterson said. “Anytime we fight a fire, time is really the most important thing. The longer the fire burns the greater it gets in size and the bigger it gets the faster it burns.
“(Standpipes) will allow us to get hoses into the park quicker and allow us to fight fire from the inside. In this case (in January), we weren’t able to do that. We had to drag hose up the front steps into the building, up the stairs and then down the hallway in order to get to where the fire was burning. That’s time consuming because that much hose isn’t pre-connected. The fire got a good start.”
Authorities determined the fire was started by a space heater left too close to a plastic container while work was being done in one of the suites. The flames moved quickly heavily damaging the right-field side of the park, destroying nine suites and gutting the concourse and home team clubhouse.
Peterson said firefighters on Jan. 3 had to lay about 1,600 feet of hose in order to supply water to responding trucks. Had more than two fire hydrants been on the property – and had one by the neighboring White Pine Trail not been buried in snow – more water could have gotten on the fire sooner, he said.
After the baseball season, at least a half-dozen hydrants will be installed on the property, Peterson said.
“I would imagine there’s actually going to be more than that because they’re going to loop the system around the park and there’s a spacing requirement,” he said. “The new ones will be all the way around the park.”
The stadium’s fire-suppression sprinkler system is all new on the first-base side, said Dave Kloote, township building official. The township was testing stadium fire alarms last week, he said.
“They are going to have the corridor ready and the sprinklers are supposed to be up and running and the bathrooms will be ready,” Kloote said. “We’ll be back again Monday before the opener to make sure everything’s all set.”
Among other changes in the works are a new souvenir shop with an entrance/exit both on the inside and outside of the stadium.
“It has more to do with customer flow than anything else,” Whitecaps co-owner Lew Chamberlin said. “An ancillary benefit is I’m sure it helps with emergency flow as well.
“This isn’t the offseason that we were looking for, but the important thing is to look forward and not look back and do the best you can. This did allow us the opportunity to do a couple things that we had planned but didn’t really have on the drawing board as of yet.”
Matt Vande Bunte covers government for MLive/Grand Rapids Press. Email him or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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