Sprinkler Saves Florida City Hall

March 18, 2008
The fire was contained to a break room.


Hundreds of employees at City Hall were evacuated early Monday morning after a microwave in a break room malfunctioned, starting a small fire in a break room.

Channel 4s Diane Cho was told that about 30 people in a new-employee orientation in a first-floor room saw heavy smoke coming from an adjacent break room about 9:25 a.m. and the instructor pulled the fire alarm.

Officials said the building was evacuated quickly and no one was hurt.

While the fire was contained to one room on the first floor, a fourth-floor employee said that workers saw smoke before the alarm went off and began to panic.

"I opened to come out of my office, the smoke was coming up to the fourth floor," Carol Owen said. "We didn't get the alarm at first. We just knew we needed to get out."

By the time Owen got outside, three fire engines had already responded.

Firefighters said the sprinkler system did its job.

"What kept the fire contained from spreading to the wall or the attic of that particular area was the fact that the sprinklers went off," Jacksonville Fire-Rescue Lt. Mike Peery said.

Peery said it appeared to originate in the microwave oven and the fire marshal ruled it accidental.

Officials said more damage was caused by the water from the sprinklers than by the fire or smoke. The building was reopened shortly before noon even though it took maintenance crews several hours to soak up the water.

City engineers and fire investigators were trying to determine whether there was a malfunction or delay in the fire alarm system.

The historic St. James Building was designed by architect Henry Klutho and originally opened in 1912. It was the site of the Cohen Brothers department store, later called May-Cohen, for more than 50 years.

The building was remodeled and reopened as Jacksonville's new City Hall on Dec. 12, 1997.

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