Fire protection at Fifth Third ballpark needs upgrade

10:19 PM, Jan 7, 2014   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: PHOTOS: Fifth Third Ballpark in flames - 1/3/14
Fifth Third Ballpark, Comstock Park, Mich. (Jan. 3, 2013)

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. (WZZM) -- As work to rebuild Fifth-Third ballpark gets underway, fire protection will be among the priorities.

Plainfield Township Fire Chief Dave Peterson says he would like to see more fire hydrants and a newer sprinkling system inside the 20-year-old structure.

"If the sprinkling system would have operated as anticipated, our crews would have went up there and put some water on a fire that was smoldering,'' he said Tuesday.

Peterson said he would also like to see up to four new fire hydrants. The ballpark currently has two. A third hydrant, located at AJ's Fun Park, is some 1,600 feet from the stadium.

"It appears there wasn't - well it doesn't appear - there weren't an adequate number of hydrants,'' Peterson said Friday after fire heavily damaged the home of the West Michigan Whitecaps.

When the stadium was under construction in 1993, building codes did not require fire hydrants. That changed in 2000 when the International Fire Code was published. The first comprehensive fire code of its kind, the IFC established minimum regulations for fire prevention and fire protection systems.

"If we were under the IFC, we're thinking they're going to have to have six hydrants,'' Peterson said.

The standard is already in use at other minor league baseball stadiums. Dow Diamond in Midland, home of the Great Lakes Loons, has six fire hydrants, even though its seating capacity is 44 percent smaller than Fifth Third ballpark.

Dow Diamond also has a separate "dry pipe'' sprinkling system used in unheated areas of the building. It isn't affected by freezing temperatures, Midland Fire Chief Chris A. Coughlin said.

The International Fire Code is updated every four years, but isn't retroactive, meaning there is no requirement for Fifth Third ballpark to upgrade fire protection.

Adding more hydrants, Peterson said, isn't cheap. "It's very expensive to add hydrants,'' he said. "The construction costs, the material cost is quite extensive and we have not, to the best of my recollection, required or requested the White Caps to add hydrants since I've been here the past 20 years.''

Two fire hydrants on ballpark grounds were more than 500 feet from the flames, forcing firefighters to lug hoses up ice-coated stairs. The hydrant at AJ's Fun Park was used by a ladder truck to spray water from above.

All three hydrants feed from a 16-inch water main running beneath White Pine Trail parallel to West River Drive NE. With three hydrants in use, coupled with the length of hoses needed, water pressure dropped.

Friday's fire was reported about 11 a.m. Plainfield Township, which had seven fire trucks at the scene, quickly called for assistance. "All of the crews, not just our department, but Grand Rapids, Walker, Alpine Township and the city of Rockford - everybody gave 100 percent,'' Peterson said.

Firefighters inside the ballpark were ordered to evacuate at 11:30 a.m. It turned into a defensive attack from the outside.

The air temperature was 10 degrees and 14 mph winds from the south made it a difficult fire to battle, Peterson said.

A space heater used by a Fifth-Third employee working in one of the suites caused the fire, Peterson said.

Damage was confined to the upper portion of ballpark along the first base line. Peterson said he thinks between one-third and half of the structure needs to be rebuilt.

Opening day at Fifth Third ballpark is in three months and Denny Baxter, the Whitecaps managing partner, said he is confident baseball will be played at the site in 2014.

"We will rebuild; we will play baseball this spring,'' he said.

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