Volunteer firefighter and full-time engineer Tom Newbold described the attic of New York City’s iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral as “a box of tinder.” With one spark, the entire 33,000 square-foot space above the cathedral’s arching ceiling — comprised mainly of tiny pieces of wooden frame and plaster — could quickly burn, leveling one of the city’s best-known landmarks. Nobody wanted to see that tragedy.
However, Cathedral officials and New York City firefighters are breathing easier these days after the addition last year of a $1.1 million water mist fire suppression system in the cathedral’s attic. The system was installed using NFPA 750, Water Mist Fire Protection Systems.
Newbold, along with other members of the design, engineering and construction teams that worked on the project, took an NFPA Journal writer 115 feet above the bustling Manhattan streets for a close-up look at the new mist system. A feature story in the new September/October issue of NFPA Journal explores the new system’s capabilities as well as the unique challenges engineers faced in retrofitting the 135-year old church attic with hundreds of feet of stainless steel piping and more than 250 high-pressure mist nozzles.
The article also details the history and evolution of mist technology and how it has expanded from being used almost exclusively in maritime applications to protecting dozens of historical and cultural landmarks on land today. There is also a photo slide show of the new system and the cathedral's comprehensive $177 million restoration project; current statistical information on church fires from the recent NFPA report, “U.S. Structure Fires in Religious and Funeral Properties”; and a brief introduction to NFPA's cultural codes, NFPA 909, Protection of Cultural Resource Properties—Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worship, and NFPA 914, Fire Protection of Historic Structures.
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