Inside The Galaxie: Making Madison's Newest High Rise Safer For All
One week ago in a Galaxie not so far away, Fire Prevention Officer Doug Milks stood by, clipboard in hand, preparing to run the final tests on the standpipe system in Madison's newest high-rise building.
The focus of this particular test was the pressure reducing valves-- the gizmos that regulate water pressure so it's high enough to effectively push water through a firefighter's hose yet low enough to prevent safety hazards for the emergency responders who use them.
Along with Cory, a sprinkler fitter at Monona Plumbing and Fire Protection, Milks checks the pressure gauge as water flows through a test hose.
"205 and 110," Milks notes as he compares the meter output to his chart. "Beautiful!"
While most people will step foot into the mixed-use complex on the 800 block of East Washington Avenue for the first time, the Madison Fire Department has been part of the project since last fall, applying engineering principles to the science of fire prevention to guarantee the building is safe for all Madison residents and visitors to enjoy.
A sister of sorts to the Constellation just next door, The Galaxie houses fourteen floors of residential units and four stories of commercial space, which is slated to include a yoga studio and cycling fitness center.
Along with the project comes Festival Foods, a full-service grocery store with a kitchen containing cooking appliances and exhaust hoods protected by fire suppression systems.
Nestled high above the dozens of aisles peppered with recovered ash trees from Tenney Park is an automatic sprinkler system ready to protect life and property at a moment's notice. They're a feature throughout the building, including the four-story parking facility.
While the indoor sprinklers are filled with water at all times, the narrow pipes feeding the unheated parking ramp can't withstand Wisconsin's freezing temperatures during the winter (and some spring) months.
That's where the fire pump comes in.
If the fire protection system is triggered by heat or flames, the fire pump activates and pushes water through the ramp's sprinklers, filling each pipe and beginning fire suppression within one minute. The same pump boosts water pressure to the upper floors of The Galaxie, ensuring all areas of the building are protected if a fire occurs. It's a demanding job, and that's why the sound of an active fire pump can be deafening.
The Galaxie's alarm technologies take a step beyond typical strobe lights and the bark of alarm horns. This system also provides audible evacuation commands and even allows firefighters the ability to communicate specific instructions to occupants.
And this is more than just a door. When the alarm activates, it becomes an ally against fire.
Positive pressure fans inside the stairwells deploy as soon as the fire alarm is triggered. The pressurized stairwell is designed to keep the area smoke-free as occupants open doors to evacuate the building. The pressure also ensures the door closes behind them.
It's a delicate, almost "Goldilocks"-like balance: Too little pressure and smoke can enter the stairwell; too much pressure and it becomes difficult to open the doors.
That's why Madison Fire inspectors and their partners in building design and safety tested every door to ensure the air pressure was "juuust right."
If needed, an emergency generator supplies standby power for the elevators, fire pump, fire alarm system, stair pressurization, and illuminates the exit path.
Among the challenges for firefighters during high-rise operations is the ability to communicate via radio. A building's steel-frame architecture coupled with other sources of radio interference can have a detrimental effect on firefighters attempting to communicate with Incident Command, the Dane County Communications Center, and/or fellow firefighters and paramedics.
To combat this, The Galaxie installed a radio repeater that boosts signals so firefighters and paramedics can clearly communicate their activities or resource needs from inside the building.
Inspector Milks estimates he's been to the Galaxie over twenty times since the Fire Department began working with project designers and contractors last fall.
The entire MFD Fire Prevention Division, which includes the Fire Marshal, Lead Workers, Fire Prevention Officers, Elevator Inspectors, and the Community Education Division, paid a visit in September 2015 to get acquainted with the building's sprinkler system. In addition to serving as a hands-on learning opportunity for the team, it gave the Division a chance to re-affirm consistent code enforcement standards for all inspections as they take their work to other parts of the city.
There are more visits on the horizon as the MFD's elevator inspectors check The Galaxie's brand new hydraulic and traction elevators for code compliance and working safety features.
Two elevators are already in service-- one located in the parking garage and another serving Festival shoppers who wish to be lifted up to its cafe on the second level.
As interior construction nears completion, the MFD's fire and elevator code enforcement officers will continue to work closely with contractors, property owners, building managers and other stakeholders on final check-ups and ongoing annual inspections.
Thanks to the time, care, and attention invested in The Galaxie by the Madison Fire Department's Fire Prevention Division, the city's residents and visitors can breathe easy knowing the building is a safe place to live, shop, and forward fold into downward-facing dog.
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