Focus on Sprinklers and Smoke Alarms

Incredible fire safety gadgets

Invicta Fire Protection report on four incredible gadgets that are improving fire safety

Fire: it is a threat as old as time. From Prometheus to the present day, fires have claimed countless lives and destroyed the most precious of manuscripts and artefacts. Even now, tragic fires such as Grenfell Tower and the loss of the Brazilian National Museum illustrate the potential for fire to cause rampant destruction if it is not properly prevented.

Fire safety technology and training have advanced tremendously over the past 100 years, and deadly fires are an increasingly rare occurrence. Yet there is always more to be done, and both scientists and manufacturers are hard at work innovating the firefighting technology of the future. Here are five of the most incredible ways that tech is improving fire safety today.

Voice Alarms

If you cannot prevent a fire, smoke alarms are one of the final resorts to get you out of a building safely. Yet for home fires happening at night, the effectiveness of fire alarms can be extremely variable. Some people are not as easily woken up as others – particularly children.

Studies show that kids are difficult to wake up with a smoke alarm, taking almost five minutes on average to escape after the alarm goes off. In essence, fire alarms are being designed to wake up adults, who can then rescue their children. In fast-moving fires, however, this is not always feasible, and could be costing innumerable lives.

Scientists looking to improve the effectiveness of fire alarms have come up with an ingenious solution: voice alarms. While you may be familiar with voice alarms from the workplace – giving evacuation instructions, for instance – home voice alarms would have a unique twist. Alarms for children would be customised with the voice of their mother, to wake them up more quickly. Early studies have been positive, and show an incredible improvement in reaction times for these new alarms.

Eighty-six to 91 per cent of children hearing these alarms were woken up successfully, compared to just 53 per cent with a traditional alarm. Those who did wake up then escaped in between 18 and 28 seconds, a huge improvement on the 282 seconds it took on average to escape using a conventional alarm. These improvements were consistent regardless of what the mother was saying, allowing them to be used in multi-child households.

Augmented Reality

The lesser known sibling of virtual reality, augmented reality (or AR) has been less hyped and less widely used so far. You are probably most familiar with the concept from the flash-in-the-pan hit Pokemon Go, where digital critters were projected onto the real world with the use of your phone’s camera. Technology has advanced even since that game first debuted, however, and is now being applied to all sorts of things.

Companies like Ikea are excited about the possibility of projecting furniture into your home, to try before you buy. Likewise, clothes shops could start using AR mirrors, overlaying clothes on your reflection to let you try things on without actually putting them on. Both Apple and Android have added AR development tools to their phones, and new apps are coming out every day.

One exciting application of this technology for fire safety is the concept of pathfinding. In many fires, the most harmful element is actually the smoke, which can both suffocate people and obscure escape routes. An AR fire safety app could allow you to escape without being able to see anything except your phone. The quickest route out of the building could be highlighted on your phone screen, allowing you to navigate corridors in thick smoke.

Such an app could also lead you towards fire extinguishers, or lead firefighters to a water main. At the moment, this requires a map to be built into the app for every individual building; however, this could be made easier using building management software, which often has a digitised map built into it. Eventually, 5G sensors inside the building could communicate live data to the app, tracking the fire and providing the safest route as the fire advances.

Fire Resistant Materials

For hundreds of years, asbestos was the miracle material used to fireproof buildings, clothes and even Christmas decorations. By the middle of the 20th century, though, we had found out pretty conclusively that it also causes deadly lung disease, and it is now only used by a handful of countries worldwide. This has left us searching for new fire resistant materials, however, and there is still significant room for improvement.

A breakthrough for building protection and integrity came with the invention of Durasteel. Originally using asbestos itself, it was quickly found that mechanically bonding reinforced concrete to punched steel sheets would have the same effect. These barriers are capable of resisting even fierce fires for up to 240 minutes, as well as protecting against blasts, impacts and the effects of fire hoses. Durasteel is also lightweight compared to other fire resistant materials, can be used for everything from walls to floors, and can even be load-bearing.

Leave it to the brains at NASA to trump everyone, though. Engineers working to protect forest firefighters and people in remote areas have developed a shelter that uses a material also used in spacesuits. The walls of the shelter are less than a millimetre thick, with the whole unit weighing less than two kilograms. Suits are also being developed to resist temperatures of up to 260 degrees celsius for long periods, far higher than conventional wear. NASA was hoping to reveal the finished articles this year, but no news yet. Stay tuned!

Door Props

It is a common sight everywhere from building sites to schools to offices: fire doors being propped open. This can seem benign, but it is actually extremely dangerous, as it effectively renders them useless in the event of a fire. Instead of stopping its progress, the fire will continue through the door unabated, accelerating its spread and risking lives in the process.

The idea of a fire door is that it shuts itself, which is what makes people resort to propping them open with chairs and other items. Mechanical and electronic systems can be used to try and ensure they stay shut, and doors can be alarmed so that they are only opened in a fire. But neither of these options is always practical, nor can they always solve the issue of fire doors needing to be opened regularly.

A brilliantly simple new device aims to solve this problem entirely. This ‘smart doorstop’ is a small mechanical device that attaches to the bottom of the door frame. It can be used to keep the door open whenever needed, but in the event of an actual fire, it will automatically retract, ensuring that the door closes. This is achieved through a noise sensor that is attuned to the precise pitch of your fire alarm, guaranteeing that it will only shut in the event of a real emergency.

Invicta Fire Protection is a specialist division of The Invicta Group and the world’s leading installer of four hour passive fire protection systems using Promat Durasteel.

A bleaker future:

Sprinklers highlight the difference between two fires

Tom Roche, Secretary of the Business Sprinkler Alliance, points out the stark difference between a business premises with sprinkler protection and one without

Two supermarket kitchen fires, two very different outcomes. In November 2018, a chip pan fire that spread throughout a Morrisons supermarket in Folkestone caused the roof to collapse and destroyed most of the store. Four weeks later, an oven fire in the ground floor bakery of a Sainsbury’s in Altrincham, Cheshire was extinguished by an automatic sprinkler system in less than three minutes. It begs the question: why did one supermarket have sprinklers and the other not?

Whilst thankfully all staff and customers were evacuated safely from the Morrisons in Folkestone, the early morning fire in the café kitchen spread quickly and engulfed three quarters of the building prior to the roof collapsing. The fire caused disruption to local businesses and residents, some of whom had to be evacuated. For Morrisons, this will cause loss of earnings along with business disruption as their store will have to be rebuilt, a temporary store erected and staff will need to be redeployed.

In contrast, the bakery oven fire at Sainsbury’s in Altrincham had a very different outcome, with an automatic sprinkler system activating and extinguishing the fire prior to the arrival of the Fire and Rescue Service. The store reopened three hours after the fire started with damage limited to less than £500. This figure is minuscule when compared to the substantial cost of rebuilding the Morrisons supermarket and the loss of business incurred.

There is clear evidence that sprinklers work and are one of the most efficient ways to reduce the impact of fire because they control or even extinguish it before the Fire and Rescue Service arrives. In an independent report carried out by Optimal Economics, thousands of incidents have been analysed to provide detailed and comprehensive analysis of the activation and performance of sprinkler systems used to control fire in buildings. The evidence shows that sprinkler systems have an exceptional operational reliability and demonstrates that when called to work, they have a very high reliability.

We must always be thankful when a fire is contained and extinguished with no loss of life, but it is not enough. Lives are still affected regardless, and we must strive to minimise the effect that fire has in all circumstances. When we protect property and halt the spread of fire we not only protect lives, but we also protect businesses and jobs. A properly controlled fire can be the difference between a building requiring renovation or demolition. Halting the spread of fire when it is first detected is the best way to limit damage and so also minimise costs and impacts, and sprinklers have been shown to contain, control or extinguish fires in 99 per cent of cases1.

The contrast between two buildings with and without a sprinkler system in a fire can be quite stark. In the event of a fire, many businesses with sprinkler systems suffer a minor interruption and find they are back up-and-running in a matter of hours. Those without can see five to six times the damage and suffer longer spells of interruption. These systems make buildings and businesses resilient to fire incidents. The impacted business can be operational within hours, avoiding the economic and social costs.

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1 Efficiency and Effectiveness of Sprinkler Systems in the United Kingdom: An Analysis from Fire Service Data – Optimal Electronics May 2017

Voice is choice for high school

Vimpex reports on a fire safety system upgrade at Harwich and Dovercourt High School, a mixed secondary school and sixth form with academy status serving more than 1,200 students aged 11 to 18 years. It now has 110 Vimpex Fire-Cryer Voice Sounders at its heart to help protect students and staff

This extensive fire safety system upgrade, installed by life safety systems specialists Anglia Fire Protection Ltd, comprises 24 Vimpex wall mounted Fire-Cryer and 86 high output Midi Fire-Cryer Voice Sounders, with custom built voice message controllers built to the customer’s specification.

Such a busy, multi-use facility as a senior school demands a bespoke evacuation and warning system solution. Vimpex’s Fire-Cryer Voice Sounders can be programmed to produce bespoke messages and tones specifically designed for the educational environment. Vimpex’s Fire-Cryer is the only voice sounder system available with a range of discreet ceiling mounted voice sounders through to high output IP66 voice sounders.

The advantage of using multi-message voice sounders in schools is that traditional fire alarms can be mixed with everyday messages such as class change. It can be customary practice for schools to use the fire bells or sounders to announce class changes with the potential for confusion during an actual fire or routine test.

The Fire-Cryer range is the most extensive range of voice sounders available on the market today with five models to choose from and literally millions of message combinations, ensuring that any site requirement can be fulfilled. The units require no special wiring and can be retrofitted to existing installations. They can be fully synchronised and have a low current consumption allowing simple replacement of existing sounders and bells.

Established in 1994, Vimpex is the UK’s leading independent manufacturer and distributor of fire detection, alarm and evacuation products and accessories. The company produces and distributes a range of high quality evacuation, signalling and building infrastructure system products, both Vimpex-manufactured and supplied by the company’s manufacturing partners.

Protecting Maidstone Studios and its stars

Kentec reports on its highly sophisticated Taktis panel, a life safety control systems manufacturer installed by DPJ Fire and Security Ltd which is helping protect visitors, staff and actors at Maidstone Studios in Kent, one of the UK’s largest independent broadcasting facilities

Maidstone Studios provides state of the art studios, production offices, dressing rooms, green rooms, wardrobe and make-up space. It is home to some of the nation’s favourite shows including Take Me Out and Later… Live with Jools Holland.

DPJ Fire and Security Ltd, a dynamic fire and security company, were approached by Maidstone Studios to advise what they could do with the existing fire alarm and control panel that was showing signs of degradation, and turned to Kentec’s product suite to upgrade the studio’s existing fire control panel located in the studios entrance and reception area.

Steve Bidmead, Senior Project Manager at DPJ Fire and Security, says: “We met with the client and discussed their current fire alarm requirements and future plans. The Taktis panel from Kentec was an obvious choice, the customer is forward-thinking and technology driven, and wanted a future-proofed solution.

“Since being installed, there have been no issues and the customer is very happy with the solution,” Steve adds. “DPJ has built a lasting professional relationship with the customer, secured the maintenance contract and carried out various refurbishment works over the studio premises.”

Kevin Swann, Managing Director at Kentec, says Taktis offers a number of key benefits: “With its enhanced integration and capability to network up to 128 panels, Taktis is able to meet current and future needs of even the largest buildings, making it the perfect fit for Maidstone Studios.”

Carbon Monoxide alarm offers ‘exceptional protection’

Aico reports on the Ei3018 mains powered Carbon Monoxide Alarm bringing together the company’s very latest technologies into one alarm for ‘exceptional protection’

At the heart of the Ei3018 Carbon Monoxide Alarm is Aico’s high performance, proven electrochemical Carbon Monoxide sensor which has a ten-year life. It is pre-calibrated and tested in Carbon Monoxide gas to ensure accuracy. When in alarm mode, the level of Carbon Monoxide detected is indicated by the flash rate of the red LED on the unit and the sounder incorporated within it.

The Ei3018 comes with a number of sophisticated features including AudioLINK data extraction and SmartLINK wireless interconnection and whole system data monitoring capability.

Aico’s multiple award winning AudioLINK data extraction technology enables real time alarm data (eg number of times tested and details of alarm activations) to be extracted directly to a smartphone or tablet via an App which creates an Alarm Status Report. It identifies any issues enabling action to be taken immediately, which is effective for tenant safety and in reducing the cost of return visits to a property. AudioLINK also aids compliance for landlords, providing proof that alarms are working at the start of a new tenancy and with annual Gas Safety Checks.

Next generation Radio Frequency (RF) technology, SmartLINK enables alarms and system accessories to be interconnected using RF signals rather than hard wiring. Hard wired interconnection is time consuming, disruptive and costly in existing properties, whereas wireless interconnection is quick, easy and requires no redecorating. The new SmartLINK technology is smarter and easier to use than its predecessors and future-proof. What is more, Aico is currently developing SmartLINK technology to enable a Gateway and Portal based system with real-time notifications.

The Ei3018 forms part of Aico’s new technologically advanced 3000 Series mains powered alarms with ten-year rechargeable lithium cell back-up launched by Aico last year. In addition to this single sensor Carbon Monoxide Alarm, the Series includes Aico’s very first Multi-Sensor Heat and Carbon Monoxide Alarm, a Multi-Sensor Fire Alarm and single sensor Optical and Heat Alarms, providing whole property coverage from one series. All alarms in the 3000 Series use the same easi-fit base (a first for Aico Carbon Monoxide Alarms), are fully compatible with all other Aico alarms and accessories and work with hard-wired, RadioLINK or hybrid interconnecting systems.

Aico, an Ei company, is the UK market leader in fire and Carbon Monoxide alarms. All alarms are designed and built in Ireland specifically to meet UK standards and regulations.

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Improved smoke detector and sounder

Nittan reports on launching its new, improved photoelectric smoke detector with integral sounder

In line with its ongoing commitment to continuous improvement, fire detection product manufacturer Nittan has launched the new EV-PYS Photoelectric smoke detector complete with integral sounder.

Building on the success of the EV-PS, the EV-PYS features a new advanced smoke sensing chamber designed for maximum effectiveness. A spherical feature has been incorporated within the chamber which provides superior light scattering, plus an orange LED has been used, which significantly improves response across the fire spectrum. The shape of the new ‘PY’ smoke chamber has also been optimised to minimise the effect of dirt/dust contamination, plus a fine stainless steel micromesh prevents the ingress of even the smallest insects which can create false alarms.

Even with this improved performance, Nittan is pleased to offer the new EV-PYS at the same price point as its popular predecessor, the EV-PS.

The EV-PYS is a direct replacement for the EV-PS and is fully backward compatible, meaning it is suitable as a direct replacement for spares and retro-fit applications of any older EV-PS models without the need for panel upgrades or type code changes.

The new ‘PY’ chamber technology incorporated into the EV-PYS will form an essential building block for future planned Nittan device developments.

The Nittan Group has been at the forefront of the international fire protection industry since 1954. It continuously innovates and strives for exceptional quality products of the highest standards.

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Protecting Bulgarian Communications Commission

Advanced report on protecting the headquarters of Bulgaria’s Communications Regulation Commission as part of a major refurbishment project and drive to reduce false alarms

Located in Sofia, the Communications Regulation Commission (CRC) was established in 2002 as an independent state authority entrusted with the management and regulation of all electronic communications in Bulgaria.

A recent upgrade of the fire system in the Communications Regulation Commission office was undertaken by Advanced partner, FireTech Engineering Ltd. The project saw Advanced’s Axis EN system installed in the building supported by smoke detectors, and Advanced’s AlarmCalm false alarm management solution.

Rossen Kolev, Managing Director for FireTech Engineering Ltd, said: “We specified Axis EN as the brains and backbone of the system for the CRC building as we know it offers the highest levels of quality and reliability. The client specified a system that would avoid false alarms and offer the option to expand or upgrade in the future, which is something we can guarantee with Axis EN and AlarmCalm.”

AlarmCalm is a free upgrade to Advanced software and firmware that takes advantage of the high-speed robust panels and networks to offer a best in class solution for managing verification and investigation delays to outputs. It allows the false alarm management strategy for a site to be refined right down to points and to take account for resident needs and area usage. It includes the AlarmCalm loop device that allows residents or trained staff to indicate whether they believe a signal in their area is due to a false alarm.

Axis EN is EN54 2,4&13 approved and its panels can be used in single loop, single panel format or easily configured into high speed, multi-loop panels in 200 node networks covering huge areas. Advanced’s legendary ease of installation and configuration and wide peripheral range make it customisable to almost any application.

Axis EN also supports TouchControl, Advanced’s 10” HD touchscreen repeater and remote-control terminal that offers dynamic reporting and control via a unique interface that includes Active Maps and zone plans.

Etienne Ricoux, Advanced’s Head of Sales, commented: “The Communications Regulation Commission building in Sofia is the latest high-profile building in Bulgaria to be protected by Advanced panels. Our Axis EN panels lead the market and offer the performance, reliability and flexibility needed in a building such as this.”

Advanced is a world leader in the development and manufacture of intelligent fire systems. The legendary performance, quality and ease-of-use of its products sees Advanced specified locations all over the world, from single panel installations to large multi-site networks. Advanced’s products include complete fire detection systems, multi-protocol fire panels, extinguishing control and fire paging systems.

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