PT Council needs more info about fire suppression systems

Published Jan 28, 2014 at 9:45 am (Updated Jan 28, 2014 at 9:45 am)

Donna Huffner Spencer told Peters Township Council Jan. 27, that her 82-year-old mother, whose name she did not reveal, has been displaced from her home in the Hidden Brook plan after the mandatory fire suppression system burst twice within three days when the temperatures dipped on Jan. 8 and again Jan. 11.

Spencer said the flow of water from the sprinkler system resulted in $60,000 to $70,000 in damages and forced her mother to live elsewhere until the house is repaired. Spencer estimated her mother may not be back in the house until the end of February. Under the current township ordinance enacted in the late 1990s, certain homes, including those classified as patio homes like Spencer’s mother’s, must have a suppression system.

Converting the current copper-pipe system to one that relies on an anti-freeze formula with the water, Spencer said, could cost her mother and additional $3,700. Her mother purchased the house and moved in August.

Bill Muzzey, township building inspector, said copper pipes are permitted under the current ordinance and building code, and told council Spencer’s mother’s house, when inspected, had the required installation and insulation in the attic. The type of insulation used, Muzzey said, was blown in, which can result in movement when future workmen go in to the attic.

Peters Township Fire Chief Dan Coyle told council blown-in insulation can shift, causing gaps near the pipes. With the recent cold temperatures, any gap could cause the pipe to burst. Coyle noted he felt the $3,700 conversion cost “appears to be high.” Muzzey said he believed a similar conversion to the patio homes in the Evergreen plan was about $800 per house.

Coyle said fire suppression sprinklers are 99 percent effective.

John Williams, president of the Hidden Brook Homeowners Assoc. and a resident of Driftwood Drive, noted that he, personally, had two burst pipes in his residence in two years, that resulted in $150,000 in damages. He converted to the anti-freeze-type system at a cost of $4,000 and has not had a problem since. Williams said the development is monitored monthly to ensure the systems are functioning properly at an annual cost of $12,000, which is paid by the homeowners association collected through fees.

“We’re getting a reputation to not buy in Hidden Brook,” he said. Many of the development’s residents travel south for the winter and worry that when the house is vacant, a pipe will burst and there will be significant damage.

Paul Jorgensen lives in the Prestonwood plan near the Bible Chapel. His home has a sprinkler system, as required by code, and has not had any problems. However, he said, there is anxiety the system will fail, “and the cost of failure is enormous.” He asked council to make activating the sprinkler system an option for the individual homeowner.

Michael McLaughlin Jr. is the deputy fire chief who knows first-hand how important sprinkler systems can be to permit residents a few precious minutes to escape a fire. His grandfather died in a house fire several months ago.

After a lengthy discussion, Council Chairman James Berquest said the township would review the situation and would welcome additional discussion. When Spencer asked what would be the outcome if her mother, once the repairs were made, opted to not turn on the system. Muzzey said the home would need to be inspected after the repairs and if the suppression system was not activated as required by ordinance and code, she would not receive an occupancy permit.

In other action Jan. 27, council:

• Approved a request by St. David’s Episcopal Church, 905 E. McMurray Road, to operate a farmers’ market from May 28 through Sept. 24, in the church parking lot. The approval was unanimous with several conditions, including no parking on East McMurray and nearby Hays roads, no outside music and no loudspeakers. Several township farmers were approached about taking part in the weekly market. Bob Simmons of Simmons Farms said he will participate, but felt the market was a “double-edged sword” as he sells produce at the farm and operates a farm market on Washington Road. Simmons said he currently sells produce at 13 markets and serves on the board of two. He also told council when he joined the market group on Route 50 in South Fayette Township about 20 years ago, traffic was a problem that resulted in the vendors paying for police to direct traffic. More recently, a traffic light was installed at the entrance to the market.

• Following a public hearing that resulted in no comments, a request for a liquor license transfer from Meldon Avenue in Donora to Valdor LLC was approved unanimously. Doreen Valentine must now seek final approval for the transfer from the state Liquor Control Board. Valentine plans to open a fish taco bar and grill at the site of the former Dozen Bake Shop, 3909 Washington Road, Suite 201 in Donaldsons Crossroads shopping center. She told council the 92-seat restaurant would currently operate for dinner-only. Any outdoor seating would not be in the interior courtyard and would be dependent on the landlord. Michael Silvestri said any seating outside the restaurant would require returning to council for approval. Valentine said she hopes to open the restaurant in May.

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