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Fire Sprinkler System Extinguishes Fire at Madison’s Tommy Thompson Commerce Center, Stark Contrast from Unsprinklered GEF-1 Fire in 2014

Due to the quick response of a fire sprinkler system, no one was hurt in an overnight fire on the morning of October 21, 2015, in the underground parking garage of the Tommy Thompson Commerce Center in Madison. The sprinkler system extinguished the fire, which began when a power line shorted out in a storage room, and prevented the fire from spreading and causing major damage.

Although the building was closed for the day due to a power outage caused by the fire, the fire could have been much more costly and disruptive to the state government building. The fire sprinkler save at the underground parking garage greatly contrasts the unsprinklered fire at Madison’s GEF-1 state government building in May 2014. The GEF-1 fire caused approximately $15 million in damage and displaced workers as the building was closed for three months of restoration.

During the restoration of the GEF-1 building, City of Madison Fire Department officials recommended the installation of a fire sprinkler system, but the Wisconsin Department of Administration declined the recommendation. For that reason, the building is no safer that it was before the costly fire.

“When the GEF-1 insurance claim was finalized, Wisconsin taxpayers were still on the hook for millions of dollars. That fire would not have resulted in such significant damage had the building been protected with fire sprinklers. The money could have been better spent on retrofitting the building with fire sprinklers to prevent any major fires,” says Marty King, who is the retired assistant chief of fire prevention at West Allis Fire Department and current state coordinator for the nonprofit Wisconsin Chapter of the National Fire Sprinkler Association.

“The successful activation of the fire sprinkler system at the Tommy Thomson Commerce Center fire proves the effectiveness and value of fire sprinklers,” adds King. “Wisconsin legislators must take note of the difference between these two fires and advocate for better fire protection, most importantly fire sprinklers, in all state buildings to save lives and preserve the state’s resources.”


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