Fire chief: sprinklers saved Kedron Fieldhouse

Peachtree City Community Services Director Jon Rorie (L) and Recreation Director Cajen Rhodes review the fire damage in the storage room at the Kedron Fieldhouse Thursday afternoon. Photo/John Munford.

Arson suspect arrested hours after blaze; pools, building to remain closed for cleanup

The fire sprinkler system saved Kedron Fieldhouse from being destroyed by fire early Thursday morning, but a malfunction in the fire alarm system resulted in the facility being under two inches of water because a switch failed to send an alert to the city’s alarm monitoring company, officials said.

“The sprinklers saved that building,” Peachtree City Fire Chief Ed Eiswerth told the city council Thursday night. “Otherwise instead of cleaning up the building, we’d be moving it with a bulldozer. There’s no doubt that sprinkler saved that building.”

The fieldhouse and the adjacent pools will remain closed for several days as crews work around the clock to clean and repair the building, city officials said.

Peachtree City police arrested a Palmetto man Thursday afternoon for setting two small fires in the facility: one in a large storage area and the other behind the front desk. Robert Earl Striggles, 19, of Hill Street was charged with one felony count each of arson, burglary and interference with government property.

Striggles gained access to the building because he had worked for the janitorial company that cleans the building at night, police said. He was identified in a review of the facility’s video surveillance system as police determined with no forced entry to the building they would focus on people who had access to the building.

The flooded fieldhouse was discovered by an aquatic staff member who arrived in the morning for a swim meet, police said. That employee saw that the sprinkler and emergency lighting systems had been activated, and there were some signs of smoke in and around the building, police said.

Police said the fires appeared to have been started with a combustible liquid, and an unidentified liquid also had been poured on several desks in the office area. Lab tests are being conducted to determine the makeup of the liquid found at the scene, police said.

The malfunction that prevented the fire sprinkler alarm from being transmitted to the city’s alarm monitoring company has been discovered, Community Services Director Jon Rorie told council Thursday. One of the electrical panels either was burned out or had a short circuit, and repairs were being made, he said.

Rorie noted that the alarm system was tested in February and everything worked well. The sprinkler system was tested in March and also worked well, Rorie said.

City Manager Jim Pennington confirmed that the city plans to review all its fire alarm systems to make sure there are no similar malfunctions in the future.

Pennington was also complimentary of how city staff handled the matter. It showed “what this team can do when we have an emergency like that,” Pennington said.

Councilman Eric Imker noted that swimmers will be able to use the city’s Glenloch pool until the Kedron pools reopen.

Public Services Director Mark Caspar said Facilities Manager David McDaniel was on site early and called various subcontractors who would be needed as soon as the police investigation of the scene concluded.

In the afternoon the city’s insurance company representative had two 18-wheelers with personnel ready to start the cleanup process, Caspar added. Just before 5 p.m. they were already removing carpet and starting to clean the furniture, Caspar said.

Striggles was found in Palmetto around 3 p.m. by police detectives, and he was placed under arrest with assistance from the Palmetto Police Department, officials said.