Fire Protection Finds a Home

Article excerpt

The former estate of John Lincklaen, an early land speculator in Western New York, housed succeeding generations of Lincklaen family members until it was sold to the State of New York in 1968. Today, this magnificent nineteenth century mansion is home to thousands of yearly visitors. To preserve the property for future generations as well, its caretakers have made fire safety a priority.

Built in 1807, Lorenzo State Historic Site is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The property, encompassing eighty-five acres, is spectacularly situated at the head of Cazenovia Lake near Syracuse, New York. The thirty-two-room house and all Lorenzo's original outbuildings-including a smoke house, an ice house, and a delightful 1850s children's playhouse complete with a working miniature cast iron stove - still survive. More recently, three pole-barns were erected on the property to provide modern maintenance and storage facility for the site's extensive carriage collection.

Lorenzo, with its thirty-five companion historic sites around the state, falls under the care of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation's Bureau of Historic Sites Protective Services Program. Because the agency is decentralized, direct supervision of security and fire safety at Lorenzo is handled by its facility manager working with a team of other support staff, including building conservators, restoration specialists, architects, and engineers.

Projects such as fire protection systems planning, design, and installation are coordinated by the Bureau of Historic Sites' museum security specialist. The specialist helps identify protection risks, formulate solutions, and facilitate compromises that ensure adequate protection for the site while meeting preservation and operational requirements. Depending on the type and complexity of the project, additional staff expertise may also be sought from archaeologists, exhibit specialists, curators, and conservators.

This project team planned to protect all the Lorenzo buildings with a fully integrated, computer-controlled system that included electronic intrusion and fire detection, automatic fire suppression, CCTV, and access control. However, these plans had to be scaled back and implemented over several years.

The project team ranked the security and fire safety needs of the buildings on the property. The mansion and the modern collections storage building (see sidebar, page 79) were designated as the number one and two priorities.

While security alarms were installed in the two buildings for less than $10,000, the greatest percentage of the projected costs for the Lorenzo estate was allocated to fire detection and suppression. The project team had to figure out how to install proper fire protection in a large, complex building like the mansion, where the cost of full detection and suppression dwarfed the department's available resources.

A model plan. In mid 1997, the agency was hosting a group of fire safety experts and engineers - all members of the National Fire Protection Association's Technical Committee for the Protection of Cultural Resources - for a two-day meeting to discuss cost-effective fire safety strategies for historic sites. This group used another state mansion, Coe Hall, as an example, but the findings were intended to apply to all of the state's historic properties. From this meeting evolved a fire safety strategy that was applied at Lorenzo.

Analysis. To begin the process, a site-specific analysis of protection needs and goals was undertaken. This step included identification of likely sources of fire ignition, among them: HVAC systems, fuel supplies, electrical systems, office equipment, appliances. The analysis also noted fire hazards such as extension cords under carpets or floor runners, poor housekeeping practices, and the accumulation of combustible materials. The risk of arson was also evaluated. …