Landmark installs 'curtain' of protection

May 13, 2008 12:23:38 PM PDT
Philadelphia's historic Christ Church has a new system to protect it from catastrophe. Christ Church's steeple is a Philadelphia landmark, but this beacon is made of wood. Some of it is more than 200-years-old... fire is a constant worry.

Donald Smith of the Christ Church Preservation Trust explains the fear is, "the threat of burning embers from other nearby fires blowing in air and setting the steeple on fire."

A century ago it was lightning that damaged the steeple. Today the congregation gave thanks for a new million-dollar plus fire suppression system. An interesting thing to do given it is Pentecost Sunday.

"On the day that the church celebrates a spiritual fire lighting off in us we sort of dedicated a system meant to put out an earthly fire, it's a pretty ironic date for us to do it," says the Reverend Timothy Safford.

The new system is more than just inside sprinklers. Nozzles are designed to gently spray the ancient wood tower with hundreds of gallons of water a minute. It is called a water curtain.

As explained by David Oliver from Oliver Sprinkler Company, it, "surrounds the church in kind of a cloud of water - in a mist of water."

The idea behind the water curtain is to protect the church should there be a fire until the fire department can arrive.

Lt. Wynnefield Smith of the Philadelphia Fire Department says, "I think it is a wonderful thing. It gives not only the congregation but the fire department a sense of comfort that before we get here they are doing something pro active to help the situation out."

Benjamin Franklin helped build Christ Church. Washington and Adams attended services there. The hope today is with its new fire suppression system the church will continue to stand safe for centuries to come.