Two fires were set in the parking lot of Nevada’s City Hall on Wednesday evening in an effort to educate the community and local business owners about sprinklers and fire safety.


The educational fire sprinkler safety event, which featured a live fire demonstration and a livestreamed seminar, was hosted by Main Street Nevada, the Nevada Fire Department and the National Fire Sprinklers Association. It was, according to Nevada Mayor Brett Barker, “a how-to on how to protect downtown buildings, which are a lot of times a key part of your town’s identity.”


Pointing to the estimated $9 million in downtown construction taking place on Sixth Street in Nevada, Barker said, “With (the) investments the community is making, we want to make sure to protect those investments for future generations so that they can continue to enjoy these beautiful, historic buildings that we have.”


The idea to put on the event, the Tribune previously reported, came out of local business owner’s interests in renovating their buildings, especially following the city council’s approval of Main Street Nevada’s request to apply for a Community Catalyst Grant in January.


The grant, which provides $100,000 from the Iowa Economic Development Authority to renovate a building, got a number of business owners thinking about renovations, according to Main Street Nevada’s director, Henry Corbin. However, there are a lot of steps to be followed when renovating a historic building.


One common interest brought forward by business owners, according to Nevada’s director of fire and EMS, Chief Ray Reynolds, is putting apartments on the upper floors of buildings.


“In order (to make renovations), it would require each building (to be) brought up to code and put sprinklers in the system,” Reynolds said. “Nationally, that’s a very big discussion, and oftentimes is a detractor for somebody investing in their building.”


Reynolds told the Tribune on Thursday that the combination of the downtown construction and the existing interest of property owners made it “a good opportunity to provide education to those building owners.”


The event was livestreamed on Microsoft Teams and community members were invited to attend as long as social distancing was followed, making it the city’s first official event since before the coronavirus pandemic.


During the seminar, various experts covered all aspects of fire sprinkler safety, code requirements, tax incentives and more. Then, to end the day, a live demonstration of a sprinkler system was held.


Two fires were set in a National Fire Sprinklers Association Live Fire Sprinkler Demonstration/Training Unit, a mobile sprinkler valve lab that allows fires to be lit so that viewers can see the difference between the effects on a room that has sprinklers and one that doesn’t.


First, a fire was set in a room with sprinklers. As the fire started in the back corner of the room and began to crawl up the curtains, the sprinklers quickly doused it before it could travel onto nearby furniture.


Then a fire was set in the second room. By the time the Nevada Fire Department extinguished the flames, the walls were charred and furniture was destroyed.


“I’m a visual learner, and I think a lot of other people are too. People like to see it and then they get it,” Reynolds said.


The benefits of sprinklers have already been seen at various places throughout Story County, including Story County Medical Center, where a small fire ignited in the janitorial room. According to Reynolds, sprinklers put out the flames before anyone even realized there was a fire.


“I think one of the great failures of the fire service is that we’re afraid to talk about sprinklers. We know how effective they are, they have a 96% effective rate on saving lives and property. But we also know that they cost money, and it’s an investment, and so I think a lot of people tend to shy away from talking about sprinklers,” Reynolds said. “But, at some point, we need to talk about what works, and in my world that is sprinklers.”