News | October 20, 2006

New Fire Protection System Helps Buoy Waterfront Museum's Safety, Popularity


For many years, it seemed that if David Sharps didn't have bad luck, he would have no luck at all.

It wasn't always that way. In 1985, Sharps was lucky enough to find an old sunken wooden barge and purchase it for exactly one dollar. Armed with a desire to help people understand and appreciate the New York Harbor, both as a commercial waterway and a means for culture and recreation, Sharps created The Hudson Waterfront Museum in 1986 using his bargain-basement purchase. The only surviving wooden vessel of its kind, The Waterfront Museum provides programs in education and culture aboard a historic vessel while advocating for and expanding public waterfront access in the New York Metropolitan area. It also demonstrates how goods were transported across rivers and other waterways before railroads became popular.

After seven years of operation with numerous ports of call in the New York/New Jersey area, the museum claimed Red Hook — established in 1636 and one of the earliest areas in Brooklyn to be settled — as its permanent home in 1994. It seemed that Lady Luck was firmly on Sharps' side.

"Things were going quite well," he recalled. "The museum was bringing people to an area that was severely impoverished and underserved and transforming it into a desirable destination for both commercial and residential activity."

Accolades began to accrue. The once bustling waterfront piers that had deteriorated into a dumping area were refurbished to the point of being cited by the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition as "an ideal example of open space and waterfront access which provides an excellent complement to waterfront development." What's more, the museum received the Municipal Arts Society 2003 Certificate of Merit Award for making an "exceptional contribution to the life of New York City and for an extraordinary job of bringing the waterfront closer to all New Yorkers."

The barge was also designated by the United Nations as the "Regional Craft of the International Year of the Oceans" in 1998 for its work in opening up waterfronts for the use and enjoyment of the general public. Sharps put The WaterFront Museum on the National Register and started taking it to various waterfront towns.

Incidentally, it was in 1998 that Sharps' luck began to turn. And as he successfully addressed each instance of misfortune, another one appeared in its place, like a dike springing multiple leaks.

In fact, "leak" was the first major problem, as the barge began to experience a number of these nautical four-letter words. Summoning a diver to the scene, Sharps learned that the leaks could be repaired, but with that his luck continued to sour: the diver informed him that the ship had a bad case of shipworms, which were gnawing hungrily at the barge's wooden structure. Due to the successful clean-up of the New York Harbor estuary over the past 20 years, shipworms have returned to the harbor in epidemic proportions. Their unchecked exponential proliferation is likely a result of the fact that one female lays a million eggs in her lifetime and that there are no known predators.

After embarking on a far-reaching drydock project about 150 miles upriver from Albany — replacing the vessel's bottom, bow, sides, and stern at about a quarter of a million dollars — it seemed that Lady Luck had to have vented all of her anger. Then, about three weeks prior to returning to port, the ship's dock fell into the water, a victim of the same shipworms Sharps had defeated in drydock. As he so eloquently put it, "The Old Lady was all dressed up with no place to go."

After the dock too was replaced, it seemed that the museum was ready for visitors. Among the visitors, however, which included school groups, civic associations, and music lovers (the vessel features a lively Music Series), was — as luck would have it — the United States Coast Guard, who called the dock's integrity into question. After performing a thorough risk assessment, the Coast Guard pronounced that the dock was fine, and The Waterfront Museum could stay. Crisis averted.

Or was it? Sharps explained that his vision of The Waterfront Museum was not one of a stationary building, but that of a "showboat" barge, one that could travel and stop at various ports of call along the water highway. Doing so would require that the museum be "recategorized" from a permanent building to a boat — specifically, an attraction vessel.

Inspecting the vessel with this new designation in mind, the Coast Guard provided Sharps with a list of 20 deficiencies that would need to be addressed. In particular, there were three items that would need to be completely mended before any groups larger than 12 people would be allowed on board. The good news is that once the Big Three were taken care of, Sharps would be granted a few months to address the rest.

The most egregious of the three — and certainly the hardest to solve — was the substandard fire detection and prevention systems installed on the barge. Sharps did have some battery-operated smoke detectors on board, along with a fire extinguisher. But the system that the Coast Guard had in mind, while not actually subject to its approval, would have to be far more comprehensive than what Sharps currently had in place.

After an exhaustive online search, Sharps became intrigued by the offerings of Fire-Lite Alarms, part of Honeywell's Life Safety Group and a leading manufacturer of quality life safety systems. Based on this discovery, Sharps luck was about to turn around.

After personally visiting the vessel in late November 2005, John Dewey, the Regional Sales Manager from Fire-Lite, and Luis Barros from System Sensor worked with Sharps — as well as representatives of the installer and cable provider — to design a system that would meet all of the museum's unique fire-protection needs. Ultimately, once installation is complete, the barge will be equipped with a commercial-grade fire panel, monitoring stations for manual evacuation and heat and smoke detection throughout the vessel. Specifically, the team will create a system that includes an MS-5210UD 10 zone, 24-volt Fire Alarm control panel with built-in DACT and remote-site Upload/Download capability; an LED-10 remote LED fire alarm annunciator with remote control of critical system functions; and manual fire alarm pull stations. System Sensor will provide the I-3 intelligent conventional photo electric smoke detectors and heat detectors. Also, the barge will be equipped with SpectrAlert selectable output Horn/Strobe units; SpectrAlert selectable output Strobe only units; and alarm bells.

The fire system will be able to accommodate every conceivable fire situation to notify people both on and off the ship either dockside or at sea. For instance, if the vessel is empty and a fire event occurs, two strobes will flash, alerting outside observers that there is a problem. If there are people on the upper deck and a fire breaks out down below, three separate horns will alert the occupants. If the crew is on the main deck and a fire starts on top, horns in the crew office and downstairs quarters will sound.

While the museum is at sea, it is being towed by a tugboat or other vessel since it has no propulsion system of its own. In the event of a fire, the crew and/or passengers can escape onto the powered vessel to get out of harm's way. Of course, if the ship is in port, evacuating will be as simple as walking ashore.

"Early detection is obviously critical," Sharps emphasized. "With so many smoke detectors, heat detectors, and strobes, there are more than ample ways for people to be made aware of a fire event before it becomes a major problem."

In addition to having such an abundant collection of detectors and strobes, the system has a central station alarm that will allow a call to directly alert the fire department in the event of an emergency.

The system can be powered in a number of ways — through shore power via an on-board generator, or by battery back-up if the generator is not working — virtually guaranteeing 24/7 protection.

In fashioning the system, Dewey emphasized that The Waterfront Museum presented some interesting challenges.

"We had to figure out how to adapt the system to the environment, which can, at times, be quite harsh," he said. "The main concern is temperature as some areas of the vessel are unheated, and the products must be located in areas that are at least 32 degrees Fahrenheit."

Also contributing to The WaterFront Museum's Coast Guard compliance project were Johnson Pumps of America, East Penn Manufacturing, Parker Hannifin Corporation, Thomas & Betts Corporation, Taylor Made Products, BIG BEAM Emergency Systems, Inc., Pauluhn Electric Manufacturing, LLP and Watts Radiant.

When the installation is complete, The Waterfront Museum will boast a fire-protection system that will serve as a model for other attraction vessels. From then on, Sharps' luck will undoubtedly change for the better.

SOURCE: Fire-Lite Alarms