Older downtown buildings susceptible to fire

GREAT BEND, Kansas – When a fire started in downtown Great Bend, it was caught quickly.

Fire investigators say that prevented what could have been a very destructive fire to Great Bend’s downtown.

“I think the fires in the older buildings have more of a potential to be a larger fire because of all the wood, and there’s not a lot of fire stops or fire protection,” said Mike Napolitano, Great Bend Fire Chief.

It’s very expensive to bring older buildings up to fire code so the buildings downtown aren’t brought up to code until they are remodeled.

“One hundred years ago everything was wood, and wood dries out, and eventually, it causes a fire hazard,” said Napolitano. “A lot of it is just poor maintenance on the building itself, and then a lot of the buildings are just unattended, and they’re not kept up or looked at.”

With older buildings, maintenance is essential as new technology or fire walls weren’t common when they were built.

But it isn’t always done.

“You’ll run the full gamut of they either take care of it, or they don’t on that, and people just don’t think about those things.” said Lee Schneider, building inspector.

Fires can be prevented without the building being up to code, but it requires vigilance.

“A lot of times, you see open electrical boxes and things like that, that they’re not closed and a spark can ignite the material that is down below and stuff like that,” said Schneider. “Furnace maintenance, you need to make sure that their area is cleaned, and that they’re serviced yearly.”

The best way to prevent fires in old buildings is with regular maintenance, and if the building is unattended, to install an alarm system that would alert the fire department to catch a blaze quickly.

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