Fire Sprinkler and Delays

We are still hopeful that we can be open by the day after Thanksgiving. However, here are the reasons for our delays and what we must accomplish in order to start distilling. I read Franz Kafka’s The Castle in high school. I feel like I need to re-read it, because we are living that life.

This is a photo of the fire sprinkler that was finally installed last week. The Mason County Building Department is requiring our little distillery to have a fire sprinkler system. The alternative is to have firewalls and learn to live without windows. We chose the fire sprinkler system.

Back in April 2012, our contractor sought bids for the fire sprinkler system. We had thought that the worst-case scenario would be the cost of the fire sprinkler system. But no, that was not to be the case.

The water pressure mystery

Unfortunately, no building in Hoodsport has a sprinkler system. The designer/engineer for our tiny sprinkler system needed to know the water pressure in order to design our system. We mistakenly thought someone, either our contractor or our fire sprinkler contractor, would be working on this. Weeks passed with nothing happening, and we figured out that we had to be the ones to find out the water pressure. We asked the Mason County building department for the water pressure. They did not know. We asked the local fire department for the water pressure. They did not know. We asked the local PUD that provides the water. They did not know.

All of these agencies told us that it was likely that there would be low water pressure. If that were the case, we would have to buy large water tanks, and water pumps. These water pumps are very expensive, and Chuck and I lost sleep wondering how we would pay for them.

When I met with the PUD, the engineer was very friendly. I like her. She jokingly suggested that we might have to buy a separate piece of property to hold these large storage tanks. I know she meant well. I still lost several nights of sleep.

First, you find the catch basins

It turns out that the test for water pressure is done by releasing water from one fire hydrant for a set period of time, and then checking the residuary water pressure. Two fire hydrants and catch basins are required for the test.

At a meeting with the PUD, Chuck was told that the PUD thought there were no catch basins. Without catch basins, the water from the fire hydrants would flood surrounding property, and the test could not be done. We could not imagine that there would not be any catch basins.

By this time, our contractor had given up on this part of our project. Because neither the PUD nor the building department knew the location or existence of catch basins, and had no inclination to find them, Chuck had to find the catch basins for the test to take place. Chuck found them, and drew a map of the fire hydrants and the catch basins. He gave this map to the PUD and to the building department.

It then took weeks of coordination for the test to occur. We learned through the prior Fire Marshal for the Mason County Building Department that the current Fire Marshal had the equipment to do the test. Chuck sent an email to the current Fire Marshal every week for a few weeks, with no response. Jan enlisted the help of the PUD. Finally the Mason County building department found the necessary testing equipment, which was actually at a neighboring fire department. We received a call on a Friday morning, and the pressure test took place that same day. It took less than two hours, after months of effort.

More layers, more plans

Now that the water pressure was known, it was time to move forward with the plans for the fire sprinkler system. More layers. We sent the test results to our contractor. He sent them to the fire sprinkler contractor. The fire sprinkler contractor sent them to the fire sprinkler designer.

We did not hear back for a week, and asked what is happening. The designer was on a two-week vacation.

Finally the plans were finished and submitted to the Mason County Building Department for a permit.

Add a commercial fire alarm

It is now September. Another surprise is on the horizon. In addition to requiring a fire sprinkler system, the Building Department is requiring us to have a commercial fire alarm system. These are surprisingly expensive for a small commercial building, and require on-going monitoring costs.

Meanwhile, we are also learning that this fire sprinkler system will require a four-inch pipe from the water main to our building. The good news is that the water main runs directly in front of the distillery. Unfortunately, so does Highway 101. For a brief period of time, the PUD thinks that the Washington State Department of Transportation will not be involved, because the water-main is 34 feet from the center-line of Highway 101, and the highway right-of-way extends 30 feet from the center-line prior to and after leaving Hoodsport.

We then learn that the right-of-way for the properties in Hoodsport are not the same. In fact, the highway right-of-way differs for each lot and is a patch-work of distances.

The right-of-way in front of our building is 40 feet from the center line of Highway 101. As a consequence, the water-main is just inches within the highway right-of-way and we must get a permit from the Washington State Department of Transportation to proceed.

As our luck would have it, the building next door has a highway right-of-way of 30 feet and the Department of Transportation would not be involved, if the project were taking place next door.

Fortunately, the PUD drew the plans and submitted them to the Department of Transportation. It is anticipated that the Department of Transportation will grant the permit by mid-October. Unfortunately, there only two PUD employees who are qualified to excavate, install the hot tap, and re-asphalt. One of them will be on vacation the last two weeks of October. The earliest they can begin the work is October 30.

The blue mark in the photo shows the location of the hot tap. The measuring tape shows the distance to our building.

At first we were told that the first few feet (inches) of excavation and re-asphalting from the blue mark to our property line would be done by the PUD.  The next few feet (inches) of excavation and re-asphalting would be done by someone hired by us, and then our plumber would tie the new pipe into the fire sprinkler system, which sits inside the building right next to the point of the new pipe’s entry into the building. All of this work would have to be done at the same time. Chuck and I wondered how they were going to fit all of this equipment and personnel into such a small space.

We had a bit of luck: the PUD volunteered to do all of the excavation and re-asphalting, so long as we paid up front, which we did the day we received the invoice.

Two permits, and a CO to go

As of today, we are waiting for the permit from the Washington State Department of Transportation. We are also waiting for the permit from the Mason County Building Department for the fire alarm system.

Once all of the work is done, there must be a test of the fire sprinkler system.

But that’s not all. We still have to have the rest of the building certified for occupancy.

When that is completed, the Washington State Liquor Control Board must do its final inspection.

I think Franz Kafka was on to something.