The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 22, Number 6
1998


A Tribute to Frazer Poole

by Stephen E. Bush

The author retired in February 1996 after 30 years of government service, the last 25 years of which was with the U.S. Library of Congress, where he had served as the Chief of the Safety Services Office. He is the author of the chapter on "Library and Museum Collections" in the 15th, 16th and 17th editions of the NFPA's Fire Protection Handbook, and co-author in the 18th edition.

This is my salute to a wise man!

It has been said that a wise man can change his mind, a fool never. Frazer Poole was a wise man. Prior to his career at the Library of Congress, Frazer Poole had been Director of the American Library Association's "Library Technology Project." In that capacity he had led the library community's opposition to automatic sprinkler protection in libraries. (As my colleagues in the fire protection professions will attest, the automatic sprinkler system is the single most powerful tool in preventing catastrophic loss in library fires.)

The statement in the Library of Congress obituary that "In addition to his duties in the preservation office, Poole represented the Library's interests in the construction of the James Madison Memorial Building" is a gross understatement. During the construction of the Madison Building (nine stories, three below grade, with a gross area of 2.1 million square feet), Frazer was the Coordinator of the Library's Building Planning Office with full responsibility for coordinating requirements for the Madison Building with the Architect of the Capitol. This was in addition to his concurrent responsibility as Director of Preservation and (until 1970) a temporary appointment as the Director of the Administrative Department.

When I started my career with the Library of Congress as the Library's first safety Officer in 1970, I discovered that the design of the Madison Building relied entirely on passive fire protection without an automatic sprinkler system or other active fire protection system elements. The Madison Building was already under construction when in 1973 the catastrophic fire loss in the Military Personnel Records Center (St. Louis) persuaded the Library to retain Rex Wilson (Firepro, Inc.) to perform a fire safety plan review of the Madison Building. In response to the Firepro Inc. analysis, Frazer Poole became a convert to the importance of comprehensive systems fire safety in libraries and of automatic sprinkler systems in achieving library fire safety objectives.

Frazer not only led the Library of Congress initiative to get the Architect of the Capitol to implement the Firepro fire protection recommendations for the Madison Building, but then supported funding the Firepro, Inc., systems safety analyses of the two older Library of Congress buildings, with the result that today all Library of Congress collections are protected with automatic fire suppression systems, as are other libraries around the world for whom Frazer served as a consultant during construction.

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