Tuesday, November 07, 2000

Jail needs repairs to fire alarm

Test finds malfunction in system

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — A malfunctioning fire alarm system at the Kenton County Detention Center has forced the county to buy 70 battery-powered smoke detectors for the jail until new components are installed.

        County officials discovered problems with smoke detectors and fans designed to pump out toxic smoke from fires during a routine test Oct. 27. When the problems were discovered, a news release issued from County Judge-executive Richard L. Murgatroyd's office said, an emergency was declared.

        The county had heating ventilation and air-conditioning contractors working on the problem and the state Department of Corrections was notified.

        “The fire system isn't working 100 percent, but it is working,” said Robert Powell, director of local facilities for the state corrections department. “I don't feel the building is unsafe considering the extra things they are doing.”

        The emergency repairs, which could cost as much as $400,000, should be completed in 30 days.

        The jail's last fire alarm occurred when lint smoldered in a clothes dryer in January 1999. The jail has never had a major fire.

        At no time has the entire fire alarm system been down, said Rodney Ballard, chief deputy of the Kenton County Jail.

        Two corrections department employees arrived in Covington last week to evaluate the problem. Jails must meet fire code standards set by the corrections department.

        The state made, and the jail adopted, several recom mendation to reduce the risk. Mr. Ballard initiated a fire watch, with additional staff put on duty at a heightened alert. Other precautions included removing all nonessential paper products from cells.

        “You can't put a dollar sign on protecting my staff and these inmates.” Mr. Ballard said. There were about 330 inmates housed in the jail Monday afternoon.

        The fire alarm system passed a routine test conducted by an independent contractor in June. The company found no problems when it tested 30 smoke detectors located in the building's air ducts.

        However it failed a more complete inspection by the county's new building maintenance director Oct. 27, which resulted in the declaration of the emergency.

        That test revealed the smoke removal system, in the ventilation system, did not work properly. Several fans were burned out, Mr. Powell said.

        Some of the smoke detectors also did not work.

        The repairs became more complicated because parts for the in-duct smoke detector system, installed in 1987, are no longer made. The entire smoke detection system had to be replaced and upgraded to meet a newer and stricter fire code.

        The jail is housed on several floors of the Kenton County administration building in downtown Covington. The building wasn't designed to house a jail, and the county wants to build its own $35 million, 576-bed jail.


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