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Oglebay Mansion Museum Installs Innovative Fire Suppression Systems

Photos by Linda Comins Dave Taylor, left, Fireline Corp.’s director of business development, and Al Riefflin, Fireline’s project manager, give a presentation on the water mist fire suppression and VESDA (Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus) systems installed in Oglebay Institute’s Mansion Museum.

WHEELING — Oglebay Institute’s Mansion Museum now has cutting-edge fire suppression and smoke detection systems to protect its priceless collection of artifacts.

Officials unveiled the new protective technology Tuesday, marking the completion of a two-year project.

The Mansion Museum, located in Oglebay Park, is the first facility in West Virginia to install these systems. The museum joins Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in utilizing this technology.

The institute contracted with Adventures in Elegance, a Wheeling firm, to preserve the historic integrity of the building and Fireline Corp. of Baltimore to install the water mist fire suppression and VESDA (Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus) systems.

Christin Byrum, Oglebay Institute’s director of museums, said it is essential to have technology that protects historic collections while remaining sympathetic to the fabric of the building.

“They (the contractors) have done such a wonderful job of concealing the elements of the system so that they don’t affect the visitors’ experience,” she said.

Al Riefflin, Fireline’s project manager, said the Mansion Museum work “added a very high level of early detection and a much more efficient system of fire suppression.”

Dave Taylor, director of business development for Fireline, said the company has worked with museums and historic sites around the country. In such settings, he said, “It’s critically important that there be some type of enhanced fire protection.”

VESDA is an air sampling system that checks continuously for elements of combustion, Taylor said. In the event of a fire, the suppression system releases a fine water mist to cool and inert the blaze.

Traditional sprinkler systems dispense large quantities of water on a fire, causing extensive damage to a building’s contents.

“It’s a real problem in a museum where you have irreplaceable objects,” Taylor said.

By contrast, a mist system — utilizing “microscopic small particles of water” — uses a lot less water, dispenses clean, noncontaminated water and covers a much larger area, he said.

The use of stainless steel and plastic piping prevents corrosion issues with the water mist. Riefflin said these pipes have a life expectancy of 70-100 years.

Monitoring units for the systems and a tank have been installed in the museum’s basement. The tank in the pump room holds 3,000 gallons of potable, drinkable water — a sufficient supply to dispense 30 minutes’ worth of mist “with four heads going off at the same time,” Riefflin said.

Taylor praised Sarel Venter, owner of Adventures in Elegance, for the fine work his firm did on this project.

Venter, in turn, said, “It was a nice collaboration. It was easy to work with them (Fireline personnel).”

While installing the mostly-concealed VESDA and misting heads in the mansion’s rooms and hallways, Venter said he and his crew also performed plaster repairs.

Discussing the impetus for the project, Byrum said, “Fire is one of the most significant threats to historic structures and museum collections, as recently seen in the fires that destroyed large parts of the Brazil National Museum and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.”

The Mansion Museum, accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, cares for a collection of nearly 90,000 artifacts housed primarily in the Oglebay Mansion, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum attracts more than 11,000 visitors annually.

Byrum said the project was completed with financial support from the McWilliams Foundation, the Hess Family Foundation, a bequest from Evelyn Hyer and a grant from the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History. Oglebay Institute’s board allocated funding for an initial study.

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