Monday, May 23, 2016

How to Design a Fire Alarm System

This article was written by John Moran, a director at Minerva Security, who has over 70 years of shared experience in the security and fire safety industry.




When designing a fire alarm system to protect your building, there are many factors which you should take into consideration. Unfortunately, if you want a reliable and safe system, mere compliance with the legal requirements may not be enough. To make sure your building is protected, you should determine the primary purpose of the fire alarm while considering all the features of your building. How many people are working in it simultaneously? Is it a listed building or a modern office block? And, finally, what do you want to achieve? High cost-effectiveness or convenience in monitoring the building? Depending on your needs, there are different types of fire alarm systems that you can select.


Conventional Fire Alarm System
This traditional system is the most common choice, especially among residential clients and small business owners. It’s suitable to cover small areas such as private homes, restaurants and shops. Unfortunately, the conventional system is unable to show you the exact location of fire. That’s why it’s suitable to cover mostly small areas such as private homes, restaurants and shops. Bigger buildings can be divided into zones (for example, the first floor could be one zone, etc.) giving you a general idea of the fire location. Keep in mind, though, that a device covering each area requires a separate wire, what can increase installation costs in bigger buildings.


Despite its simplicity, conventional fire alarm systems are highly reliable. They are also affordable and cost effective, especially in small buildings, in which one or two zones are enough to cover the whole area.


Addressable System
This fire alarm system is more sophisticated compared to its conventional counterpart. Instead of a separate wire for each device, all of them are connected to the main control panel using a loop. This lowers the installation cost down, especially in large buildings. Additionally, it’s easy to find the exact location of fire as each device has its unique address in the system.


Addressable systems are quite easy to maintain because both technical condition of the system and all the alarms can be monitored using a convenient management panel. The system is also fully programmable what together with a loop wiring makes it easy to connect a new device, what’s especially important if you plan on redesigning the building in the future.


Although the initial cost of this system is higher than that of a conventional one, it’s much easier to install and is a perfect choice for large, multi-storey buildings.


Wireless fire alarm system
In this system, all devices are communicating wirelessly; no wiring in the building is required. This makes it an excellent choice for listed buildings, in which installing wires may require special permission. Similarly, those who value flexibility (location of each device can be changed easily) or simply do not want to make extensive installations will find this system a perfect fire protection.


Their high initial cost quickly offsets as there’s no need to run the cables, what allows saving on labour, time and potential damage to the building during the installation. Even though the system is battery-powered, it is highly reliable, and there's no risk of signal collisions as it is designed to eliminate any signal interference.


What else is important?
Apart from technical specifications unique to each system, there are a few factors which are similarly important regardless of your selection. The first important factor is the speed in which the system reacts to fire outbreak. In the case of fire, every second counts and allows for evacuation of people. The earlier a fire is detected, the easier it will be to extinguish it, minimising the damage.


Another problem that affects many fire alarm systems are false alarms. Check if the devices in the system of your choice are reliable enough to distinguish between dirt, steam, and the actual smoke easily. The fines imposed for each false alarm may exceed the initial savings on the chosen system; that’s why you should make sure that you select quality devices only. Moreover, each false alarm forces people to stop working and leave the building, what can cause even bigger losses than potential fines.


Last but not least - make sure that all of the occupants in the building can hear the alarm. If there are many people inside it, it’s a good idea to choose a fire alarm system which allows you to communicate with those leaving the building, to keep the evacuation process as smooth as possible.


Designing a fire alarm system that perfectly suits your building is not an easy task and can be quite costly. Despite the initial expense, you should never try to save money on your safety and the safety of others. The installation and maintenance costs of a quality system are very low compared to potential losses caused by the actual fire, and the cost can be highly optimized if you design the system with your building and its occupants in mind.




Monday, May 16, 2016

7 Sprinkler System Obstructions


"Plumbing" by Harsha K R

NFPA 25, Standard for Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems requires that an investigation of sprinkler piping be conducted to ensure that there are no obstructions.  This internal piping assessment is to be conducted, at a minimum, every 5 years.

What could cause fire sprinkler piping to become obstructed?  NFPA 25, Annex D lists and describes seven sources of sprinkler obstructions.

  1. Pipe scale - most commonly occurs in dry pipe systems that have previously had water through them then been allowed to dry; this can also result from condensation in dry pipe systems. Pipe scale are impurities in water that create a build-up in sprinkler pipes
  2. Careless installation or repair - this can result from parts, debris, or tools that are allowed to enter the system during installation and repair; these range from gloves, metal shavings, cutout discs/receipts, etc.
  3. Raw water sources - items and debris that is sucked into the system from the bottom of ponds, rivers, or reservoirs; this results when intake screens are not in place or properly installed
  4. Biological growth - primarily encountered in systems fed from a fresh water source (lake, pond, etc.);  the most common biological growth is the Asiatic clam.  The clam larvae enter and attach to the pipe, they feed on bacteria and algae that passes through
  5. Calcium carbonate deposits - this is an obstruction caused by "hard water" film
  6. Corrosion - "...deterioration of a material...resulting from a chemical or electrochemical reaction."  Common types of corrosion:
    • uniform corrosion
    • pitting
    • crevice corrosion
    • selective leaching
    • erosion corrosion
    • environmental cracking
    • intergranular corrosion
  7. Microbiologically influenced corrosion (MIC) - biological growth obstructions caused by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi
For these seven reasons, ensure that an internal obstruction investigation is being conducted in conjunction with the fire protection systems 5-year NFPA 25 inspection.

Further reading:




Monday, May 9, 2016

The Art of ARFF (part 5) - Maneuvering

Read others in the series: Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4.

Sun Tzu states that "there is nothing more difficult" than tactical maneuvering. "The difficulty of tactical maneuvering consists in turning the devious into the direct, and misfortune into gain." In Chapter VII of his, The Art of War, he enters into a broad discourse on how exactly to accomplish this.  There are three main points that can be applied to the work we do:

  1. Importance of discipline.
  2. Use of resources.
  3. Sharing of victories and rewards.

Photo by DVIDSHUB




"Maneuvering with an army is advantageous; with an undisciplined multitude, most dangerous."

In the fire service we are familiar with the term discipline as it refers to organization, structure, and uniform operations.  IFSTA Essentials of Fire Fighting, describes discipline as "an organizations responsibility to provide the direction needed to satisfy the goals and objectives it has identified."

Discipline is not just the sole responsibility of the organization or the organizational heads.  Self-discipline is the responsibility of every individual.  In our business where times can sometimes be slow, it becomes easy to slip into complacency, and just complete the minimum tasks and requirements.  This is an undisciplined mind.  Self-discipline mandates that we constantly work toward improving ourselves, our departments, and our community/customer.  Self-discipline is taking it upon ourselves to do the hard work that will make the department better, and push it towards is goals and objectives.

"We may take it then that an army without its baggage-train is lost; without provisions it is lost; without bases of supply it is lost.  We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors.  We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country - its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps.  We shall be unable to turn natural advantage to account unless we make use of local guides."

This speaks to the benefit and necessity of taking full advantage of the resources that are available. It is easy to complain about lack of resources, it is easy to request additional funds for more tools/equipment/apparatus.  It takes a bit of 'sweat equity' and creativity to ensure that we are fully utilizing the resources that we have available. This includes those resources that we utilize for training and teaching classes.  It also applies to resources that can be used to further our knowledge of the community, facilities, and aircraft.  

Your fire prevention personnel can provide a wealth of knowledge in regards to building fire protection and life safety systems.  Are you fully utilizing these individuals and extracting as much information out of them as possible?  Do you regularly interface and interact with fire prevention to ensure that all personnel have the most current information regarding the facility?

Aircraft managers and crew chiefs are experts on their aircraft.  Are you establishing relationships with these individuals?  Are you setting up training and tour opportunities with these people for your personnel?

The internet offers an endless supply of information, training, and knowledge in the ARFF field.  This information is all free or low cost.  Here are a few valuable resources that I look to:
What are some resources that you are using?  Share those in the comments below.

"When you plunder a countryside, let the spoil be divided amongst your men; when you capture new territory, cut it up into allotments for the benefit of the soldiery."

No victories are won by a single individual.  No fire incidents are successfully addressed without many functioning team members. It takes many people working together, in their particular area, to accomplish victory.  When we are rewarded, or receive special mention, we should always pass these on to our team.  It is because of the team that we are able to accomplish our stated goals and objectives. There is no room for individuals to only push their personal agenda or build themselves.  When the department is functioning as a "united body it is impossible either for the brave to advance alone, or for the cowardly to retreat alone."





Monday, May 2, 2016

Why Your Code Change Proposal Was Disapproved




I am just returning home and getting back into the swing of things.  I spent last week in Louisville, Kentucky serving on the International Fire Code (IFC) Development Committee. One of the main benefits of committee involvement is the opportunity to understand why code changes are being proposed, the history behind these code changes, and the potential impacts that the current and proposed changes may have.

It is the committee's responsibility to hear each proposal and decide to approve the proposal as submitted, approve the proposal with a modification, or disapprove the proposed code change. This cycle the committee heard more than 400 proposals. Of these, nearly 200 were moved for disapproval.  Proposals can be disapproved for a variety of reasons. However, examining my notes from the hearings, there are 6 primary reasons that a code change proposals was disapproved.

1.  Proponent is not available to speak on the proposal.

A code change proposal submitter or proponent is not required to be present.  The purpose of the code change proposal should be clear and evident based on the proponents required 'reason statement'. However, if their are questions regarding the proposal, or something is not understood, it is helpful if there is someone available to answer the committee's questions or concerns.  Statements and responses made by the proponents (or opponents) are instrumental in influencing the committees decision on these proposed code changes.

2.  Poor code language.

The specific wording of code change proposals plays a critical role in its approval or disapproval.  Proposals that are disapproved for 'poor code language' includes wording that falls into one of these categories:
  • Open to misinterpretation
  • Not able to be enforced
  • Uses terminology that is not in the code, not clearly defined, or that conflicts with other terms in the code or referenced standards
  • The wording is confusing to read, hard to understand, or illogical
  • The wrong code or standard is referenced
  • The intent is not understood
  • The proposed code change is being added to the wrong section of the code.

3.  Lack of reliable data and/or facts to substantiate reasoning.

A good code change proposal will be accompanied by hard facts and historical evidence as to its need.  The facts and data should also show how the code change proposal, if approved, will result in the improvements intended.  Those code change proposals that are arbitrarily submitted, and lack sufficient data, are most likely to be disapproved.

4.  Effects of the code change would be too broad.

The proposal, though creating a fix in one area, may create a problem in several other areas.  Those proposals that apply to a large variety of occupancies, industries, processes, or materials may be disapproved, as the effects are so far reaching that the negative or positive consequences cannot be readily distinguished. Successful proposals are structured to effect only the intended concern.  If the proposal is intended to be broad, multiple proposals targeted at each concern should be submitted.

5.  Violates requirements and provisions outlined in CP #28-05.

This is the ICC Council Policy on code development. Of importance to those submitting code change proposals are the sections that outline specific requirements regarding how code change proposals are to be submitted, and the section that describes what types of codes and standards can be referenced.  As a submitter, be sure that you understand these council policies, and that your proposal does not violate these requirements.

6.  New technology that has not been vetted.

With the rapidity of change and technology development that is currently happening in our world, it is impossible to be fully knowledgeable on all things. New technologies, techniques, and processes, may require and benefit from specific code inclusions.  Committee members may not be aware of, or may be seeing, the technology for the first time in your proposal.  If the technology is not understood, the effects of the code change proposal cannot be realized. Education should be critical component of the submitter's reason statement and testimony. A strategy that involves educational outreach in advance of the committee hearings should be considered.


When submitting code changes, or recovering from a 'disapproval', review your written proposal, and presentation strategy for these 6 items.  Use this as a checklist to help you write a winning code change proposal!