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Biltmore passes first round of fire testing

The Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa passed the first round of major tests Tuesday, confirming that a portion of the hotel's fire protection system is working properly.

"We can now validate that the first part of the system can function under fire fighting conditions," Largo fire Chief Jeff Bullock said.

Firefighters, engineers and fire protection specialists tested about 20 percent of the system for 10 hours Tuesday. More tests will be conducted today. Six more sections of the building will be tested during the next few months, officials said.

Largo Fire Rescue called for the tests after asking the Biltmore to assemble experts to deal with fire safety issues. The department had warned the hotel's management for more than a year about inadequacies, such as deficiencies in the fire alarm system, sprinkler coverage and smoke detectors.

The fire department oversees fire protection at the hotel because the department manages the Belleair Bluffs Fire Department, which serves Belleair.

The hotel's team of experts included John Parks of Renker-Eich-Parks Architects, Joe Griner of Griner Engineering and C.W. McGirk of Industrial Fire & Safety.

Shortly after tests began at 8 a.m., a small crack was noticed and repaired in the system that firefighters hook into outside the building, Bullock said.

The crew tested the sprinkler system and the pipes that carry water to firefighters, to ensure water flowed through the systems properly and that they could withstand the pressure necessary to fight a fire. About 400 gallons per minute at about 150 pounds per square inch of pressure were pumped through the pipes.

Last week, after a contractor noticed some discolored joints, the hotel spent about $12,000 to replace the piping system on the building's west end.

"One thing that's encouraging is that they have invested money. They're taking this testing seriously. They're aware of the consequences if this doesn't pass," Bullock said.

Richard Wilhelm, chief executive office of Trust Hotels, which manages the Biltmore, said he was "very pleased" by Tuesday's positive results.