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System fights fire, protects collections

Friday, May 14, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:29 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

It’s called Sapphire, but it’s not a precious stone. To the naked eye, it looks like water.

Sapphire is a new fire suppression system developed by Tyco International, which claims the substance will revolutionize fire-fighting.

The translucent, water-like substance can douse fires even before they deflagrate, according to the company. Sapphire looks and acts like water but does not damage the items submerged in it, Tyco claims, so it “reacts to fire at an invisible level.”

Most libraries and museums depend on standard water sprinkler devices that are designed to only go off when an actual flame is detectable. Sapphire is already drawing the attention of some libraries and museums.

Robert Almony, librarian IV at MU’s Ellis Library, said the product could be very positive for the university’s libraries, though price might be an obstacle. Tyco estimates that a system built to protect a 2,000 square-foot room would cost approximately $60,000.

“We would be very interested in this product, as we are always concerned about water damage, especially with clay paper in fine books of art,” Almony said.

Besides keeping the books intact in case of a fire, libraries with rare and precious book collections could see a substantial reduction in insurance costs if Sapphire works as well as Tyco claims.

“It costs several hundred thousand dollars a year to cover the MU Libraries collections,” Almony said. “This product does sound good for rare books, and for the art books area, but the costs may be prohibitive for Ellis.”

As promising as the new system may seem, it still needs to undergo further evaluation.

Steven Sapp, spokesman for the Columbia Fire Department, said Sapphire has potential.

“It is definitely worth following the product’s evolution, but it’s still very new,” he said.

Sapp said Sapphire has not yet been tested by independent testing labs, such as Underwriter Laboratory or Factory Mutual.

“We prefer to use products which have been independently tested. Another thing we must look at is if Sapphire is compliant with our codes,” he said.

As for the cost of the product, Sapp said it must be compared to the value of the items a business is trying to protect.

In the case of special sections in libraries or museums, it may well be worth it.


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