Fire & Life Safety

Fire Tech Matches Needs

October 29, 2002
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Fire systems, coupled with special devices and unique technologies, are providing life safety solutions from tunnels to hospitals.

SimplexGrinnell, for example, is in the installation phase of a high-profile project to upgrade and replace the existing fire control system in three heavily traveled tunnels along Interstates 5 and 90 in Seattle. The Seattle tunnels are thought to be the world’s only highway tunnels equipped with foam/water sprinkler deluge systems, which are particularly effective against high-intensity fires such as those that would result from hazardous cargoes or other combustible materials transported by tanker trucks.

Retrofit Application

The project marks the first time that a tunnel foam/water deluge system has ever been retrofitted. For SimplexGrinnell, the challenge with the retrofit project is that the system must remain active, protecting against the possibility of a flammable fuel fire, while new system control panels and components are being put in place. The design includes 70 Simplex high-end fire alarm control panels, 18 Windows-based operator workstations and a central command center located in a state office building 15 miles away. Mount Baker Tunnel, believed to be the world’s largest tunnel ever driven through soft soil, is about 3,000 feet long and consists of three separate roadways—each in a separate tunnel. Each of the three tunnels, one of which is built under the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, will have its own networked system. The three individual tunnel systems will be networked, using fiber optics, to the central command center.

In the event of a flammable fuel fire in one of the tunnels, the system would release a foam agent. The system also has the capability to release and control water sprinklers to extinguish smaller vehicle fires. In a fire situation, the system can also control dampers and ventilation fans and monitor emergency telephones inside the tunnels. All functions of the new system can also be remotely monitored and controlled from the Department of Transportation’s command center north of Seattle.

Environmental Concerns

In another application, Notifier, the Honeywell Company, plays an essential role.

Great River Medical Center in West Burlington, Iowa, is a perfect example of a thoroughly modern facility that uses technology to improve the environment for its patrons, or in this particular case, its patients.

“When constructing the hospital, we were committed to patient comfort, safety and security,” says John Mercer, director of facilities at Great River Medical Center. Mercer continues, “In keeping with our commitment to safety, we searched for a state-of-the-art life-safety system that would network with multiple fire alarm control panels, and easily integrate with our existing building systems. We sought a flexible system that would also grow with the expansion of our facility.”

Based on a recommendation from Dustin Smyth of the Des Moines, Iowa-based Midwest Alarm Services, NOTIFIER equipment is installed in two medical offices and one main hospital building. Great River

Medical Center selected NOTIFIER’S OTI*FIRE*NET network for its ability to integrate multiple fire alarm control panels. The network consists of six AFP-1010 panels, an intelligent network annunciator (INA), and a network control station (NCS) with graphical user interface. “The NOTIFIER system’s network capability enables our staff to monitor activity on a specific panel from one location,” says Mercer. “With a facility as large and spread out as this, having a single source makes it so much easier for us to keep track of each panel.”

Floor Plan Displays

The main hospital building houses NOTIFIER’s NCS graphical user interface. According to Mercer, “In the event of an emergency, the NCS produces a computerized image of the buildings’ floor plan that makes it easy for operations staff to promptly diagnose a situation, at any specific location. When an alarm activates, the screen flashes, and pinpoints the exact location of trouble. If and when there’s a fire, time is crucial. The NCS’ pinpoint accuracy enables us to react quickly, improving our response time.”

The NOTIFIER system is also unique in that it utilizes multiple voice messages using Audio Voice Link (AVL). AVL offers 50 coded voice messages that are clearly understood by employees of the hospital. These specialized code messages annunciate information throughout the center and provide employees a clear description of the type of emergency without alarming the patients. Mercer emphasizes, “Because many patients are not readily mobile, we are very careful not to evacuate patients due to false alarms. The NOTIFIER system gives us the ability to assess a situation quickly, isolate it and address it.” Mercer continues, “Operations staff can quickly determine whether the facility should or should not be evacuated.”

One message can be broadcasted throughout the facility or different messages can be relayed in separate buildings within the complex. “We have it covered by floor or by zone, and we can determine whether the evacuation is due to fire or some other emergency,” says Mercer.

In the event of a fire, the NOTIFIER system instantly communicates with and, if necessary, closes doors, and communicates with elevators and the HVAC system at Great River Medical Center. This feature, for example, enables smoke dampers to move to different positions to react to the fire. If a water valve at a remote location has been tampered with, the NOTIFIER system automatically emits a supervisory signal to notify personnel of the situation and prompts someone to close the valve.

All patient rooms are equipped with NOTIFIER’s state-of-the-art heat and photoelectric detectors, designed to provide occupants safety and peace of mind. Additionally, hallways and equipment rooms are also installed with detectors so that every inch of the facility is covered, ensuring fire safety.

The intelligent addressable photoelectric detectors at this facility relay information to the control panel faster than the traditional smoke detector. “The detector’s ability to relay information promptly is one of the most time-saving and cost-efficient features,” said Mercer. “With older alarm systems, operators are unaware of dust being collected in the detectors. This often triggers false alarms. NOTIFIER’s intelligent addressable detection line greatly reduces instances of false alarm by indicating that the detector requires maintenance. This allows the operator to maintain cleanliness within the detectors.

Fortunately, there haven’t been any emergency situations at Great River Medical Center but there have been situations where the alarms have been set off and the NOTIFIER system has lived up to expectations. “The NOTIFIER system has performed perfectly, as it was set up to do,” says Mercer. “I’ve been very impressed with the system’s performance.”

Fire Strategies

It’s obvious that fire systems and the technology that supports these systems are being customized to meet specific environments and applications, from tunnels to hospitals. In addition, there is a push to add more crisis management and emergency communications devices to life safety systems.

At the American Society for Industrial Security International Exhibit and Seminar in Philadelaphia last month, for example, there were numerous seminars on these latter topics.

One important theme: the ability of a better, more effective public/private partnership. For example, Ken Brady, CPP, of Kroll Inc. joined Mark Kotte of the Illinois Police Department to interact with ASIS attendees on how public safety agencies and private security can work better together to handle weather emergencies, hazardous material spills and bomb threats.

SECURITY Magazine has a DAILY NEWS service that you can use to keep up to date on life safety issues. The DAILY NEWS service is supported through the international research firm, Lexis Nexis. On a daily basis, SECURITY editors post news from local, state, national and international sources on fire and life safety news. Check it out on www.securitymagazine.com.

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