In the aftermath of the tragic fire at Lebanon Raceway, the question needs to be asked, why were there no sprinklers or fire detection systems in the stables? More importantly, why don’t people learn? Just twenty one years ago there was another major fire there which killed 35 horses. It is safe to say if there was a sprinkler system installed, we would not be mourning the lose of two horsemen and 43 horses today.
Barn fires occur more often than one would like to think. Every year, you hear of at least two or three barn fires that occurred at a track or fair grounds; then there are the fires that don’t make the news. The fact is barns made of wood and the hay used for bedding which is stored in the barns is highly combustible; a disaster in waiting. All it takes is an electrical short, someone smoking in a barn, a cold day where someone brings in a heater, lightning, or some other circumstance and you have a recipe for disaster.
How could this happen? There is no excuse to not have sprinklers in stable areas. Yes, I know many of these stables have been built years ago, but they certainly can be retrofitted. I recognize many track operators are losing money so it may be a financial hardship for the them to pay for the installation of fire alarms and sprinklers by themselves. These are not excuses for inaction.
There are ways to pay for this retrofitting. If you are in a state where a percentage of the handle is dedicated to capital improvement, use these funds to upgrade the barns. If you operate a track that doesn’t charge for stabling, charge $25 a month towards the cost of installing sprinklers. Already charging for stabling? Add a $25 a month surcharge. Consider using a small portion of your purse account each year to help pay off the installation of sprinklers and alarms. Can’t install sprinklers now? There is fire retardant paint which may be used to slow down the spread of the fire.
I hear the arguments now. Do you know how much it costs to race a horse and now you want to increase my expense? Well, what is the cost of replacing your racing stock or rebuilding your business if your entire stable is wiped out? What is the cost of the loss of human life? I agree race track operators should pay or share in the cost of upgrading their facilities, but if they are unable or unwilling to do so, are you just going to sit by and hope nothing happens?
If you stable at a training center, make sure their stables have sprinklers and fire alarms. If not, tell them to install them or you will find another facility that does. These days there is no excuse for a public stable not to be protected against fire. Hope is not a defense