Thousands of ceiling sprinklers that U.S. safety officials say could fail in fires have been found at the White House, the Capitol and 80 other federal buildings across the country.
Despite failures in eight fires in the last three years, the manufacturer says the "Omega" line of sprinklers works. While the company is fighting a government effort to force a recall, it has begun replacing them in federal buildings at no charge.About 20,000 Omega sprinkler heads have been installed in 81 of 732 federal buildings across the country managed by the General Services Administration, which owns most nonmilitary federal buildings. The 20,000 replacement sprinkler heads alone could cost up to $1 million, not including the labor to remove the old units and install new ones.
Federal fire safety officials have found Omega sprinkler heads in the White House East and West Wings, the latter housing the presidential office suite. Omegas also were found in the adjacent Old Executive Office Building and Treasury Building, said Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin. None was found in the White House mansion.
"Those that are in the (White House) complex are already in the process of being repaired or replaced," Mackin said.
Congressional buildings - the Capitol and most House and Senate offices buildings - also have some Omega sprinklers, according to the Architect of the Capitol, which manages those buildings.
Among the other federal buildings now fitted with some problem sprinklers are the Justice Department headquarters, the U.S. Trade Representative office and the Agriculture Department. Buildings outside Washington at least partially equipped with Omegas include the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Federal Building in Boston, the William S. Moorhead Federal Building in Pittsburgh and federal buildings in Chicago and Columbia, S.C.
In August, the Associated Press reported that the Omega had a 35 percent failure rate in tests conducted for the Fairfax County, Va., Fire and Rescue Department and a 31 percent failure rate in tests by Underwriters Laboratories.