By D. Shayne Christie
3 dorms face risk without sprinklers
Tucson's Pioneer Hotel was supposed to be fire proof.
The blaze that destroyed it in 1970 killed 28 people - the city's deadliest fire to date.
The Pioneer Hotel had no sprinklers.
Since modern fire codes came about in the 1970s, sprinkler systems have been a required life safety system.
Despite the fire code, the University of Arizona has three residence halls - Babcock Inn, Yavapai and Hopi Lodge - that are still not equipped with sprinkler systems.
"The sprinkler systems are designed based on fire load and life hazard, in this case that is an obvious life hazard," said Capt. Brian Delfs, Tucson Fire Department spokesman.
That fire would have been contained where it started if fire sprinklers were in place, Delfs said.
Sprinklers are 98 percent effective in containing a fire before firefighters arrive, he said.
The state fire marshal is aware of the UA's problem and could shut down the buildings, said Steve Holland, director of Risk Management and Fire Safety.
However, Holland said, it is unlikely that would happen since the fire marshal is aware of the UA's plans to install sprinklers.
Despite the lack of sprinklers, the UA has taken large steps toward making campus structures, especially residence halls, safer.
Since the fire safety upgrades began in the 1980s, Holland said the UA has spent an estimated $10 million to $20 million to install sprinklers and fire alarms among other improvements.
"Fire alarms save lives and sprinklers save buildings," Holland said, adding he believes Yavapai could be evacuated before sprinklers would ever be activated.
"If these buildings are required by code to have sprinklers, it is a life safety system and it is not an either/or option," Delfs said.
Since the improvements began in the early 1980s, Holland said the UA administration has "recognized this as a high priority ... there is a continuing pattern of addressing these issues."
Again, Delfs saw it another way.
"If it came down to whether they install a life safety system or a parking lot, that (sprinklers) should be the priority," Delfs said.
Once the university recognized the safety hazard the residence hall's were prioritized based on the number of occupants and floors, said Herb Wagner, assistant supervisor of facilities management.
Delfs said it makes sense to prioritize and install sprinklers in high-rise structures first.
Yavapai has four floors and about 215 residents.
Even though there are no sprinklers in Yavapai, the exits are clearly marked and modern fire alarms are in place.
Yavapai will be equipped with the sprinklers this summer, at an estimated cost of $81,000.
Yavapai was built in 1942 - 30 years before modern fire codes were in place.
Babcock Inn, 1717 E. Speedway Blvd., is a two-level structure that is home to about 200 students. An estimated two-thirds of the facility is used for office space, said desk assistant Jeremy Bachtel.
Wagner said Babcock Inn is also low on the priority list since the UA will eventually use the space for something else.
Hopi Lodge is the lowest priority, Holland said, since the UA plans to eventually demolish the building. Hopi is a single level structure with about 122 residents.