Wireless Protection Preserves Pieces of History

McDaniel Fire Suppression, Fire Alarm & Security takes on installing a fire/intrusion detection system for an Indiana-based history museum. The challenge? Providing an efficient system without compromising the multimillion-dollar historical building’s structural integrity.

Each year, several thousand people visit Porter County Museum of History (PCMH) of Valparaiso, Ind., to learn about the town’s legacy. Established by the Historical Society of Porter County (HSPC) in 1916, the museum displays mementos such as photos of early town settlers, copies of local newspapers from the mid-1800s to the 1960s, historical art, old court documents and more.

One of the most popular displays at the museum features John Sullivan, also known as Broncho John, a cowboy in the early 1880s who started as a stunt rider with Buffalo Bill Cody. In 1949, Sullivan donated his Winchester guns, detailed logs of his shows, personal correspondence and two original Abbot-Downing Concord stagecoaches.

As the size of its collections increased, it became evident that the museum would need a larger venue to display exhibits. As a result, PCMH moved to the Porter County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence in 1975, where it remains today. Yet, with all those valuable artifacts, PCMH did not have a reliable fire or security alarm system, PCMH Executive Director Kevin Pazour says.

“There was a pre-existing system in the building. Unfortunately, it began to systematically fail one piece at a time,” he says. “The last update to the system was done in 1980, so we were in dire need of a system that was functional.”

Additionally, there was another fire-related issue facing the museum. In the rare instances that the system operated effectively, there were still areas in the building that were not monitored for fire, including the second floor storage areas.

“It did not have a single smoke detector or fire sensor,” Pazour says. “We keep a lot of our very precious items in there, like our paper collections that could have gone up in smoke. Additionally, most are unaware that our greatest artifact is the building itself, which has a multimillion-dollar value and was built in 1871. Quite honestly, with that system, half the building could have burned down before we were ever alerted.”

So, PCMH officials and the Porter County Board of Commissioners (PCBC), which owns the museum, sought to find a fire and security dealer that could install easy-to-use and effective systems without damaging the historical building.

Let the Bidding Begin

The board of commissioners enlisted the help of South Bend, Ind.-based DLZ Indiana LLC, a full-service architectural/engineering consulting firm, to help find the best fire/life-safety contractor for the job.

DLZ presented the project at local meetings for Indiana business leaders, which led to roughly 12 companies placing a bid for the job. PCMH officials then invited each contractor to take a tour of the facility and to provide a general overview of what they expected from the new system. Dealers then came up with system design ideas and presented them to PCMH. Included among the bid participants was Valparaiso, Ind.-based McDaniel Fire Suppression, Fire Alarm & Security, a holding of The Freedom Group LLC, a private investment firm based in Geneva, Ill.

Specializing in fire alarm, fire suppression and security systems for more than 75 years, the company offers comprehensive design, fabrication, installation, service and more to its 5,000 clients. With a satellite office in Champaign, Ill., McDaniel’s core business is a mix of 75-percent commercial and 25-percent industrial. Having completed more than 10,000 projects, the company recently began offering  access control and video surveillance to serve its customers.

During the submittal process, McDaniel worked closely with DLZ to select devices and equipment best suited for the application. In the end, however, it was McDaniel’s familiarity in working with historical buildings that helped the fire systems installer win the job.

“It’s not always easy working with a building that was built in 1871, especially in terms of the jail, which is largely brick, concrete and steel,” Pazour explains. “What we liked best about McDaniel was their willingness to work around the historical features of the building and not compromise the integrity of the historical structure.”

After choosing its installer to deploy an effective burglar/fire alarm system, Pazour assumed it would be smooth sailing. However, two weeks before the project was scheduled to start, PCMH officials received a rude awakening – the museum had been burglarized.

Fortunately, the thieves did not take any artifacts. However, they were able to run off with the museum’s computer equipment, two cameras used to catalog items in the collection and a hard drive used to store information about artifacts.

“Thankfully, we had the hard drive backed up elsewhere,” Pazour says. “But I feel the break-in had a lot to do with a media release. At a public meeting, I asked them not to print anything about the upgrade of the system, but it was printed anyway, mentioning that the system was currently down. We were broken into the evening that the article was issued.”

As a result, McDaniel’s three-person installation team got right down to business.

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