Officials study fire retardant; Chemical may be used to protect old buildings


County officials, concerned about protecting historic buildings such as the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster, are considering new technology to safeguard wooden structures from fire.

In the past few weeks, several have seen demonstrations of fire retardants that can be applied directly to interior and exterior wood. Some of the products have been used in other counties to protect historic structures from arson.

Arson has been a factor in several Carroll County barn fires, and Frederick lost one of its historic bridges to vandalism.

Steven Sass, a sales representative of Crestline Industries, conducted demonstrations of his company's retardant in the past month. In one example, he coated sheets of newsprint with a fire-retardant chemical, laid them on his palm, put a penny on top and set fire to the coin. It melted, but the paper beneath did not burn.

"It is a truly impressive demonstration," said Dick Null, maintenance supervisor for the Carroll County Farm Museum. "It would have so many applications. You could use it on tents or pipes."

Several county agencies are considering fire-retardant chemicals to protect older buildings. Frederick County is safeguarding its covered bridges with the products, and the Smithsonian Institution has used them in several exhibits that would not otherwise have passed fire safety regulations.

Several demonstrations

Null and his crew saw several other demonstrations that convinced them of the reliability of the fire safety products manufactured by the Indiana company.

"He torched a cedar shingle, heating it to about 2,000 degrees," said Null. "It wouldn't burn."

Null said he has no immediate use for the products at the museum but might have a need for them in the future.

"I have all the information and maybe we can use them," he said. "These things are environmentally safe and good all the way around."

For a one-time treatment that costs about 10 cents a square foot, a building can be protected from fire. Indoors, the treatment is guaranteed for the life of the wood; outdoors, the guarantee is five years. The chemical is sprayed onto unpainted wood.

"It is waterborne," Sass said. "Once the liquid evaporates, the chemical goes into and migrates through the wood. Under heat attack, it won't burn."


Since it is not harmful to animals, it would work in barns and stables, Sass said. And, Sass said, it repels insects, such as termites, though he cannot promise that will continue.

The treatment is less expensive than sprinkler systems, Sass said.

The products could be valuable for older wooden buildings, such as barns or bridges. In Frederick County, preservationists insisted on Crestline's fire-retardant for three covered bridges.

"It is a one-time, nontoxic treatment that does not interfere with the structural integrity of the wood," said Dean Fitzgerald, president of the Frederick County Covered Bridge Preservation Society. "In the past, there were products like this, but they weakened the natural wooden fiber."

The society lost one bridge to arson and wanted to avoid a repeat. Members raised the funds to have the bridge rebuilt and treated. They also paid to treat the other two.

The products have been used at Fort McHenry and Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson. The Taneytown Jaycees treated their Haunted House with it last year, said Sass.

Jim H. Brown, commercial plans examiner for the county's Bureau of Permits and Inspections, said the products could make aging wood structures usable.

"These products could give you the ratings required by building codes," said Brown.

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