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Commissioner Walbrecker gages interest in retrofitting sprinklers

Tara E. Buck
Frederick News Post

(8/20/2004) Town Commissioner Diane Walbrecker conducted a small meeting Wednesday to gauge interest in retrofitting fire sprinklers within the town’s historic areas.

Ms. Walbrecker said $27.5 million in federal fire prevention grant money is available, but she is uncertain if such funding has ever been used for retrofitting.

Still in its infancy, the retrofitting concept arrived on the heels of the town leadership’s support of an ordinance requiring the installation of sprinkler systems within all new homes.

Ms. Walbrecker says she feels strongly that the town’s older homes should be protected by sprinklers too.

“I just believe in the ability of sprinklers to help people,” she said Wednesday. “We have a beautiful historic district with several older homes broken into apartments. A fire could spread there like cinder boxes.”

While not yet officially endorsed by the town, the retrofitting plan could soon be taken to the town’s historic property owners, including landlords who would need to provide some of the funding for the work.
An employee of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Ms. Walbrecker said she will exclude herself from future meetings on the project, so she would not appear biased when and if it comes time to apply for the federal grants.

The grants are provided through the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.

Regardless, if awarded the federal grant would provide up to $750,000 of the cost, with 10 percent of the total cost being footed by the plan’s sponsors and the remainder by property owners. Ms. Walbrecker and Vigilante Hose Co. President Frank Rauschenberg discussed Wednesday the possibility of seeking sponsorship from an organization such as the Frederick County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.

Mr. Rauschenberg pledged to work with Ms. Walbrecker to find a new leader for the project as well as to provide guidance or facts and figures on fires within the town.

“From the fire department’s standpoint, I’m certainly interested in it,” Mr. Rauschenberg said.

Ray Lonabaugh, a regional manager for the National Fire Sprinkler Association, Inc., said that retrofitting older homes with sprinkler systems can be done, but is typically cost-prohibitive.

He said that without financial assistance from grants like FEMA’s, the plan might not meet with residents’ support. Mr. Lonabaugh did say, however, that sprinklers can provide added security and life-saving ability in the event of fire.

“Sprinklers are just one piece of the fire-protection tool box,” he said, adding that the town’s own fire company is no doubt the best assistance.

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