Sprinkler that doused Hilton Head library being investigated for possible recall

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 28, 2013 

sprinkler

Pictured is a sprinkler assembly that is currently in the ceiling in the Friends of the Library bookshop at the Hilton Head Island Branch of the Beaufort County Library. Markings show that the sprinkler, made by Central Sprinkler Company, was recalled in July 2001.

ZACH MURDOCK — Staff photo Buy Photo

A component of the sprinkler system that doused the Hilton Head Island library might have been recalled more than a decade ago -- and the same part could still be in place in other Beaufort County buildings.

The 1997 ELOC concealed pendant sprinkler is one of nearly 50 types of sprinkler heads recalled by the Central Sprinkler Company in July 2001. A photo of one of the sprinkler heads in the Hilton Head library's Friends of the Library bookshop, taken by The Island Packet on Thursday, indicates that model is still in use there.

Beaufort County has hired a contractor to determine whether those sprinkler heads were part of the recall. If so, the county would have to inspect every county building sprinkler system, according to spokeswoman Joy Nelson.

"This exact sprinkler head could be in other buildings," she said.

That would include county offices in Beaufort and Bluffton and on Hilton Head, the county courthouse and sheriff's offices, Nelson said.

The Beaufort County School District employs its own contractors for sprinkler installations and inspections, district spokesman Jim Foster said. The inspections don't typically involve recording sprinkler model numbers, so the district will ask its contractor to visit each school and check for recalled sprinklers, he added.

The sprinkler heads were recalled because faulty rubber O-ring seals could corrode, preventing the sprinklers from activating during a fire, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The recall program involved 33 million systems that use pipes filled with pressurized water and manufactured between 1989 and 2000. Under the recall, sprinkler heads were replaced at the manufacturer's expense with ones containing a more reliable rubber seal.

A broken sprinkler flooded the Friends of the Library bookshop, just inside the library's front entrance, Sept. 17. The nonprofit group, which helps support the library, had more than 3,500 books stored in the space. All of them were ruined.

The lobby also flooded, soaking the carpet. Cleanup required 30 fans, five dehumidifiers and several water extractors from Servpro of Beaufort County.

The broken sprinkler head was replaced by a contractor with a spare kept on site, Nelson said. The repaired system is working and passed the contractor's tests, she added.

Fire sprinkler systems in county buildings are inspected twice a year, once by a contractor and once by fire marshals, Nelson said.

An inspection tag from Sentry Sprinklers Inc. hangs on the system in the fire sprinkler room of the Hilton Head library. The tag is dated April 26, 2013.

Also in the room last week were parts sheets that were included with recall documents that The Packet found online. Beaufort County staff became aware of the recall several years ago and replaced some sprinklers in county buildings, Nelson said. However, Nelson said she was unsure how or exactly when the county learned of the recall.

Also unclear is whether the sprinklers were replaced as part of Central's recall program, which ended in August 2007.

After the damage to the library Sept. 17, the county filed an insurance claim with the S.C. Budget and Control Board Insurance Reserve Fund, Nelson said.

The amount paid for the claim and the county's coverage level won't change if the sprinkler turns out to be a recalled model, said Rebecca Griggs, Budget and Control Board spokeswoman.

Nelson said the contractor seeking the recall information was given the defective head from the Hilton Head library. Nelson said she didn't know who the contractor is.

It's unclear whether Sentry Sprinklers Inc. -- the contractor that signed the system's April inspection tag -- is the contractor researching the recall. Attempts to reach the company for comment were unsuccessful, as were attempts to reach a spokesman for Central Sprinkler Co.

The county has not set a deadline for its contractor to complete the research, Nelson said. A county staff member is helping speed the process by collecting model numbers of sprinklers in other county buildings, she added.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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