Fire, security firms named in lawsuit

Grinnell Fire and SecurityLink are named in a lawsuit where a fire destroyed a records keeping facility in Penn.
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Friday, November 1, 2002

WILKES-BARRE, Penn. - Grinnell Fire Protection Services Co. and SecurityLink from Ameritech are among a handful of companies named in a lawsuit for a fire that destroyed a records keeping facility in 1997.

The trial, which began at the end of September, could last several months since it involves approximately 15 plaintiffs. Collectively, damage claims total more than $100 million.

In its lawsuit plaintiff Diversified Records claims that Grinnell Fire Protection was negligent since it did not design the sprinkler system for its new multi-building facility in West Pitson, Penn., to the correct code and failed to turn on the system after records were brought into one of the buildings. Though portions of the complex had been completed, some parts, including the fire system in some sections of the complex, were still under construction when the fire broke out.

"We say that the system was designed to the wrong standard," said Pat Dougherty, an attorney for Diversified Records in its plaintiff case. "We didn't realize it. We relied on them."

Dougherty said Diversified Records' building included high rack storage using mezzanines with metal floors. The fire company, he claimed, counted those open metal floors in determining the ceiling height in the building and installed a dry system, a system allowed only if the ceiling height is not over 12 feet.

"The system was designed to the wrong NFPA spec," he said. "They designed it to NFPA 13 when it was really an NFPA 231-c building."

The lawsuit also alleges that the sprinkler system should have been tied into the building's security system, which was installed by SecurityLink.

Both fire and security firms are now owned by Tyco International, with Grinnell now known as SimplexGrinnell. Officials at Simplex Grinnell declined to comment on the case.

"It's standard procedure at SimplexGrinnell not to comment on pending litigation," said Chris Woodcock, a spokesperson for SimplexGrinnell.

Diversified Records also claims that Grinnell Fire is liable because the sprinkler system failed a trip test and the company did not produce records to show it had been repaired. And, the company claims that while Grinnell Fire tested the system, it knocked off a sprinkler head, causing $1,300 in damage to property in the building.

Dougherty said the case took so long to go to trial because it is complicated. Nearly 50 people recorded depositions for the discovery phase. Clients of Diversified also filed lawsuits against the storage company and other building contractors.