New Fire Alarm Systems Offer More Options for Challenging Spaces
In the past, requirements for detection in challenging environments often resulted in fire alarm system installations that were nearly impossible to properly maintain. Detectors were often installed too high or above obstructions, or were poorly or incorrectly spaced. Innovative detection technologies, as well as improvements in code guidance for the engineering community, have made challenging environments easier to address. Challenging environments often include large volume spaces (e.g., warehouses, industrial facilities and power generation facilities); architecturally sensitive spaces (e.g., historic structures); and highly sensitive electronic equipment spaces (e.g., data centers).
Major advances in detection technology provide the facility manager with more solutions to challenging environments. If the detection systems are correctly applied, reliability, safety, and maintenance costs can be greatly improved.
Modern fire alarm systems can now integrate highly refined beam detection systems that use multiple wireless beam transmitter sources and only one receiver that requires being hard-wired. Beam detection is one solution for large volume and architecturally sensitive spaces. Many manufacturers now offer beam detection systems that only require a transmitter/receiver installed in one location with a reflector on the opposite end of the detection space, reducing installation complexity. Additionally, newer beam detectors are far less prone to false alarms caused by obstructions, sunlight, building movement and misalignment.
Video image detection is a unique technology that enables facility managers to combine security and fire detection into one system while installing the detectors in perimeter locations that are easy to access for maintenance. Video detection can easily be concealed on cornice ledges in architecturally sensitive areas, and some systems allow the use of combined security and fire alarm cameras.
Very Early Fire Detection
Air sampling-type smoke detection (ASSD) requires the installation of a pipe network over the space requiring detection, through which the detector continually draws in air that is monitored for the presence of particles of combustion using very precise laser light sources. ASSD offers a very flexible detection solution for areas where access to detectors for maintenance is difficult or impossible. For example, battery vaults often present a significant concern to maintenance personnel who must work over large battery banks to inspect and test spot-type smoke detectors. Once the ASSD pipe network has been installed, the network can be cleaned and tested without requiring maintenance staff to work over the batteries.
ASSD offers an extremely sensitive and reliable detection solution that can be applied in high-value and essential applications. As our world relies more and more heavily on data processing and cloud storage, large data centers and the associated support facilities are becoming prevalent and critical. The very early detection of fires or component failures as a result of overheating can help ensure data continuity. ASSD coupled with good operational procedures can provide the detection needed to keep these facilities operational.
Although it may seem that fire alarm systems are not advancing at the same rate as other systems, it is not acceptable to rush technology into use for an industry that has the important responsibility of protecting lives and property in a reliable manner. Even considering the controlled rate that technology is being introduced into the life safety industry, fire alarm systems are advancing at an impressive rate and have become diverse and reliable building protection systems.
Scott M. Golly, P.E. is a senior fire protection engineer with Hughes Associates, Inc., a fire science and engineering firm headquartered in Baltimore, Md. Golly specializes in fire alarm, detection and special suppression systems. He is a member of the technical committee on initiating devices of NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. He can be reached at email@example.com.