Thursday October 22nd, 2020 2:23PM

Hall commissioners side with fire marshall over sprinkler appeal

By Marc Eggers Anchor / Reporter

GIANESVILLE – Agile Cold ATL NE, LLC, made two appeals Thursday evening to the Hall County Commission for a project already approved for construction.  One request was approved unanimously, the other, an appeal of an earlier ruling issued by the county, was denied by an equivalent vote.

Agile Cold, as the name indicates, specializes in the creation of cold; in this case, cold storage.  They have already been approved for construction of a huge cold storage facility along Athens Highway at Roy Parks Road, next door to Eskimo Cold Storage.  Now they were before the Hall County Commission hoping for its approval to change certain aspects of their construction plan.

In the first application Josh Cronan, Director of Operations for ARCO Design Build, explained to commissioners that the county’s requirement of stand-up prefabricated concrete walls to erect the giant structure was not the best choice of building materials for a cold storage facility.  He said concrete walls allowed too much moisture to penetrate into the building where temperatures as low as minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit would be maintained.

He asked approval to use the same type of wall construction material used at the Eskimo facility next door: metal encased closed-cell insulated panels.  “Masonry and concrete walls are not a suitable construction type for that kind of environment,” Cronan stated.

Commissioners agreed with Cronan’s reasoning and unanimously approved the request.

Agile Cold’s second appeal before the commission was much less successful in winning its support.

Agile Cold was appealing a decision made by the Hall County Fire Marshall on September 9th, in which Fire Marshall Bryan Cash denied Agile Cold’s waiver request for installing an automated overhead fire protection system in the nearly 50-foot high mega-freezer.  Agile Cold felt it should be exempt from the fire protection requirement.

Both Cronan and Cash would state their respective cases before the commissioners and await their decision.   

Hall County Attorney Vann Stevens explained to the commissioners, “This is not the same type of hearing you have been having…this is an appeal of the Fire Marshall’s decision.  ARCO has the ‘burden of proof’ in this appeal.”

“It (ARCO) will present evidence first in this case,” Stevens explained. “The Fire Marshall will then present evidence and argument.  The Board (of Commissioners) is entitled to ask questions of the parties as they present.”

Cronan explained in great detail that the product stored in the facility would not be a combustible substance (frozen chicken) and that sprinkler systems in a sub-zero environment presented more problems than the risk of fire ever could.

Cronan said 1.1-million pounds of chicken would pass through the facility each day and that frozen poultry would not pose a fire hazard.  The biggest hazard, Cronan said, was from any accidental triggering of the overhead sprinkler system.  “Any introduction of water into a minus ten or twenty degree facility is an inherent risk,” Cronan stated.

Cronan said large amounts of water could accidently flood the storage area if sprinklers are bumped or if any moisture in the sprinkler lines froze and burst a pipe. 

He said that exact situation happened at another of Agile Cold’s location about four weeks ago.  “The result is ice build-up on racks and product which can quickly overwhelm the structural integrity of the racks.”

He added that ice nearly an ice thick layered the floor in the cold storage area in that incident and any repeat could jeopardize employee evacuation during an emergency.

“Agile Cold Storage…is recognizing that the risk, to not only their employees but their business, is higher with sprinklers in the building than it is from the low risk of fire,” Cronan said.  “What they are saying is if this building catches on fire, as long as we can make sure that the employees get out, let it burn.”

Cash presented the Fire Marshall’s Office side of the issue.  He began by explaining that the foam insulation inside the newly-approved walls was not entirely fireproof and had to be included in the determination of facility combustibility, and not just the frozen chickens.

He added that propane powered fork lifts would be in use throughout the building and that part of the mechanical storage system operated with battery power, both of which enhance the chance of fire. 

Cash said that there are other types of sprinkler systems beside water available and in use.  “There’s sprinkler systems that are designed to go in these types of buildings…we have six other…cold storage facilities in our county that have sprinklers…we know they have them.”

“And I don’t think there’s a fireman in Hall County that’s going to stand outside any building and let it burn down,” Cash said with a measure of incredulity

“So I’ll leave you with this last point,” Cash said, looking at commissioners.  “We have a mission statement in Hall County…the very first thing in our mission statement is ‘prevention’.  So I’m asking you tonight to follow the code and deny the request.”

And that is exactly what commissioners did.

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Hall commissioners side with fire marshall over sprinkler appeal
Agile Cold ATL NE, LLC, made two appeals Thursday evening to the Hall County Commission for a project already approved for construction. One request was approved unanimously, the other, an appeal of an earlier ruling issued by the county, was denied by an equivalent vote.
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