Staff photo • Mark Cazjkowski
Firemen tend to the mishap in the Westminster Choir College Library Tuesday
A Packet Publication
April 18, 1986
Westminster Choir College avoids serious fire damage
By Joseph Dee
A potentially serious fire at Westminster Choir College was extinguished by the Princeton fire department Tuesday.
The fire started in a basement storage room of the Talbott Library, near the corner of Walnut Lane and Houghton Road after an emergency generator started up and ignited a cardboard box next to it, said Joseph Lenhardt, assistant county fire marshal.
The generator is turned on by an automatic timer every Tuesday morning to test the readiness of the backup power system, said Pierina Thayer, assistant to the director of physical plant.
One bookshelf containing six 4-foot-long shelves of books was destroyed by the blaze. Library director Sherry Velluci said damage could have been catastrophic. Westminister Caho
“A fireman said that if the fire went unnoticed another 15 minutes, we might have lost the whole building,” Ms. Velluci said.
An estimate of damage was not available.
The fire was detected by a student in a basement classroom who smelled smoke. A heat-sensor fire alarm located in the storage room failed to go off, Mr. Lenhardt said.
He added that the alarm was attached to a beam three feet below the ceiling. “The way it was set up, the heat would have to build up and work its way down to the alarm. We recommended that the alarm be moved up to the ceiling,” Mr. Lenhardt said.
He estimated the fire started at about 11 a.m. in and that the fire alarm sounded at 11:14 a.m.
The walls of the approximately 12-by-20-foot room are lined with shelves containing manuscripts, scores, and books.
“Considering the amount of combustibles in the room, they (the firemen) did an amazing job,” Mr. Lenhardt said.
“I was afraid everything would be soaked,” Ms. Velluci said. She said water damage was minimal and largely confined to the materials on shelves adjacent to the blaze.
“They were so good I’m going to send them a thank you letter,” Ms. Velluci said.
Ken Rendall, deputy chief who supervised the firefighting effort, estimated that 200-250 gallons of water were pumped into the room.
Classes were canceled until 2:30 p.m while heavy-duty fans cleared smoke from the building.
Mrs. Thayer said a metal cage would be installed around the generator as soon as possible to reduce the risk of a similar fire occurring in the future.