Two 1992 hotel fires that occurred on November I A 1992, provide a comparison that illustrates quite conclusively that properly designed, installed, and maintained fire suppression equipment is effective in extinguishing fire and can save time, effort, and money.


The King of Prussia (PA) Fire Department was dispatched to the first of these fires at 12:12 a.m.—a structure fire at the Valley Forge Sheraton Hotel in Upper Merlon Township, Pennsylvania, the anchor of the sprawling Valley Forge Convention Center complex, which includes the following:

  • the Sheraton Hotel (the fire building), 16 stories high with 326 guest rooms;
  • the Sheraton Plaza Hotel, eight stories high with 160 guest rixims;
  • the convention center with several meeting rooms and more than 130,000 square feet of exhibit floor space; and
  • the Parkview Office Tower, 10 stories high.

The facility was undergoing complete sprinkler retrofit, in compliance with an ordinance passed in 1989. Retrofitting for three flixirs and the subgrade levels had been completed when the fire began

Initial response included apparatus from two stations in King of Prussia and from the Swedeland and Swedesburg fire companies. En route, Fire Chief Gary Touchton was advised of a confirmed working tire in the first subground-level storage area.

Heavy smoke conditions were present at the lobby level, and evacuation was ongoing when we arrived. Some 175 occupants, most of them senior citizens on an outing, had to be evacuated due to extensive smoke development. Chief Touchton immediately established an internal operations command post and an external incident command post. He assumed lobby/operations command and appointed assistant chiefs to the positions of incident commander; evacuation commander; and search and rescue, which subsequently also included containment efforts.

Firefighters began an aggressive knockdown of the fire after taking adequate precautions to prevent extension of heat, flame, and smoke when water was applied to the fire. The circular configuration of the building presented the potential for heat, smoke, and fire byproducts to rapidly be forced in several directions.

A water supply to support two engines had been established at the front of the structure. Two 1 ‘/.-inch handlines were used for attack and two 1 Vi-inch lines for containment. The fire was under control in approximately 45 minutes. EMS assistance, overhaul, and salvage efforts, however, took an additional five hours and 15 minutes.


While the King of Prussia Fire Department was at the Valley Forge Sheraton fire, the Radnor Fire Company, en route to the King of Prussia Fire Department’s main station to perform stand-by duty, was dispatched to a structure fire at the McIntosh Hotel in King of Prussia. The seven-story, individual-unit prefab structure was built in the mid-’80s.

On arrival, the Radnor Fire Companyfound that a small fire set in a storage area had been extinguished by a single sprinkler head of the structure’s automatic sprinkler system before the responders’ arrival. After ensuring extinguishment. performing overhaul, and shutting down the sprinkler system, the Radnor company called the fire marshal and left for quarters in King of Prussia.

Although both of the above incidents were determined to be arson, the resources needed to mitigate each incident varied significantly. The presence of a functional, automatic sprinkler system in the McIntosh Hotel accounted for those differences, presented below.

Injuries Time in service Units committed Damage estimate* Lost revenue

* estimated by fire department ** treated at scene by FMS ***nine fire and 22 EMS

The automatic sprinkler proved to be an “unsuspected foe” for the arsonist responsible for the McIntosh Hotel fire. Hopefully, one day it will be a firefighting tool available in all structures.

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