4 FM quick reads on fire alarm
1. Capitalize on Fire Alarm Systems Advanced Communications Capabilities
As fire alarm system technology continues to advance, facilities that rely on older systems may miss opportunities to improve important aspects of fire/life safety performance or to solve problems that older systems cannot address.
One benefit of new fire alarm system technology is improved communication. Combine the powerful information provided by field detection devices with the ability to capitalize on high-speed data transmission provided by fiber optic transmission media, wide-area and local-area networks, and you have fire alarm systems capable of sending very detailed information via Internet-based digital alarm communicator transmitters or direct networks to emergency responders or off-site monitoring locations with device specific detail.
Because the fire alarm industry knew little of professional sound and communication principles, early generation voice communications systems provided unintelligible notification messages that were solely used for fire alarm functions and fire department operations. The voice communications component of fire alarm systems has evolved to the point that specifically routed messaging can deliver clear emergency and non-emergency messages, including music. This change required the fire alarm industry to realize that redundant voice communications systems, like PA systems and music systems, could be replaced by fire alarm voice communications systems. Codes in place require the industry to supervise speaker circuits for integrity in the active state. In other words, while music is playing, the fire alarm system must be capable of identifying that a circuit has been damaged or broken. Today this capability is now commonplace for the major fire alarm system manufacturers.
Over the last 10 years, fire alarm systems have begun to evolve into multi-faceted mass communication platforms, largely as a result of terrorist events and government or military needs. These mass communication capabilities include fully intelligible voice messaging systems that can integrate textual signage. Multi-faceted mass communication plans can now draw on the fire alarm system to provide message outputs via text messaging, paging and email. Additionally, fire alarm systems can be seamlessly integrated with wide area mass notification systems that use high-power outdoor speaker arrays that can reach large geographical areas with highly intelligible messages.
2. Fire-Alarm and Detection Systems Areas of Concern
There is a whole range of common problems with fire safety systems, which underscores the importance of regular inspections. Common issues inspectors find during testing include non-operational equipment or equipment that does not operate as originally installed, according to such parameters as sound-pressure levels and detector sensitivity.
Other issues commonly encountered include: systems that have not been maintained properly, such as not cleaning detectors in harsh environments; system modifications that are not code-compliant and, as a result, hinder system performance and integrity; and poor system installations and modifications.
A lack of knowledge about the system, improper documentation, and improper component and circuit labeling also can pose problems during testing. Also, accidental discharges of fire-suppression systems, such as clean agents and deluge sprinklers, can occur if the service company is not aware of specific system functions or does not follow proper testing protocol.
The age of a fire-alarm and detection system also can pose problems during testing. Systems that are 15 years old and older might have lived out their performance lives. Testing systems of this age typically uncovers problems that include equipment that no longer functions properly, defective components requiring replacement, and poorly maintained equipment.
Addressing system problems can be as simple as replacing faulty components, repairing wiring and conducting routine maintenance. Using competent, experienced fire-alarm contractors for system installations can reduce future problems resulting from poor installations.
3. ADA-Compliant Restroom Renovations
I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, ADA compliance.
In planning a restroom renovation, one of the first aspects maintenance and engineering managers must consider is ensuring compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. To meet ADA requirements during renovations, managers must consider these factors:
• occupant count and fixture requirements
• space requirements
• structural requirements.
Most ADA-compliant renovations result in the loss of a stall or a urinal as a result of physical changes to meet the 5-foot diameter requirement for stalls. If the number of existing fixtures is appropriate for the code governing the area population, then losing a stall might require additional construction costs. Similarly, space requirements for an ADA-compliant stall might require realigning remaining stalls and stools.
One possible cost-saving option in this situation is to make the ADA-compliant stall the size of two existing stalls, exceeding the size needed for a compliant stall and avoiding the challenge of moving plumbing fixtures.
Structural requirements also come into play, such as those related to grab bars required in an ADA-compliant stall. Often, walls must be reinforced to accommodate the potential weight-bearing capacities of these bars. Failing to reinforce existing walls when installing grab bars can be problematic. In some cases, visitors to restrooms find grab bar in the handicap stall loose, detached or even hanging from the wall.
In one particular case, technicians had installed a grab bar in the wall using only mollies, which obviously could not support the weight applied to the grab bar. Granted, it would have cost more money to rectify the situation at that point, but the improper installation also created a hazard and an inconvenience for visitors.
The failure to consider this and the previously mentioned factors often results in higher construction costs and potential post-renovation costs.
4. Fire Sprinkler Retrofits in Existing Buildings
Once the decision is made to retrofit a building with a fire sprinkler system, there is a lot to keep in mind. It starts with a good survey of the building's relevant features and constraints. Finding out there's an obstruction while in the midst of a retrofit could lead to costly change orders.
Take the water supply, for example. To meet domestic needs, there is probably only a 2-inch pipe coming into the building, but to meet the needs of a sprinkler system, you'll need a 6-inch or 8-inch pipe. If the water pressure is insufficient, a fire pump and the room to house it — at least a 10-foot-square space — will be needed. If municipal water demand cannot meet the sprinkler system demand, a water tank may be required.
The interaction with existing safety systems must also be taken into account. Sprinklers are part of the whole system, interfacing with the alarms, the smoke management system, the paths of egress. For example, it's not safe to assume the existing fire alarm system will work with the fire sprinkler system. Tamper switches and flow switches will need to be connected so that once the sprinkler goes off, it will send a signal to the fire alarm system.
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