Fire-proofing Annapolis Historic district: Last winter's inferno should convince City Council of need for mandatory sprinklers.

July 27, 1998

THE ANNAPOLIS City Council should waste no time translating the recommendations of an 11-member fire safety panel into law.

The longer that mandatory installation of sprinklers or computerized fire detection systems in the city's historic district is delayed, the greater the possibility that a routine fire could turn into a raging inferno.

After the five-alarm fire that destroyed a 98-year-old structure and damaged an adjoining building on Main Street last December, the necessity for protecting Annapolis' historic core is undeniable.

Had the restaurant where the fire began had sprinklers or an advanced fire detection system, the blaze might have been smothered earlier and the damage confined.

Another fire could cost Annapolis not only irreplaceable buildings, but also jeopardize the city's economic fabric. The state capital's vibrant tourism economy is in large part because of its impressive inventory of historic and architecturally significant buildings.

The downtown's unique appearance nurtures an attractive commercial environment that draws throngs of people. Any threat to that streetscape threatens the city's well-being, financially as well as culturally.

Annapolis' current building code requires installation of sprinklers in certain buildings, depending on use, materials, the number of exits and other factors.

Only about one-third of the buildings on Main Street have sprinklers. Installing them in the remainder should be mandatory upon any renovation.

In answer to those who contend sprinklers are expensive, the fire safety panel has recommended creation of a revolving fund that could make long-term, low-interest loans to building owners to finance sprinklers and advanced fire detection systems.

Many of the panel's recommendations are likely to be met with resistance. The City Council must be resolved to enact a comprehensive fire protection program.

Pub Date: 7/27/98

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