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Changing Face of Commercial Fire Alarm Systems

Commercial Fire Alarm Systems

Protecting life, property and reputation is now much easier for commercial facilities ranging from hospitals, universities, schools to museums, cultural heritage sites, airport terminals, metro-rail stations as advanced aspirating smoke detector technology becomes widely available.

The technology, which draws in air samples through flexible tubing to a central testing location, has been used for decades in sensitive applications such as cleanrooms and data centers where early smoke detection is critical.

Aspirating systems detect smoke at the earliest possible stage.

Compared to traditional spot smoke detectors, this approach dramatically improves commercial facility safety by detecting smoke at the earliest possible stage. It also significantly improves aesthetics by using small, concealable sampling points while reducing false alarms and even maintenance.

aspirating smoke detector

As an example, one system draws air through small, unobtrusive sample points in each room. The air is analyzed using sophisticated laser-based technology at the central unit to identify the presence of minute smoke particles in a continuous process. This approach offers earlier detection than even photoelectric technology detectors. The system is able to detect minor particles in the air much faster, even before a fire begins to flame and burn.

In many cases, early warnings can speed evacuation and prevent fire spreading to other areas.

A multi-channel, addressable system used as the central unit can also pinpoint the exact location of the alarm. The use of multiple levels of alarm, set at specified concentrations of smoke, can also ensure time to investigate the alarms and make decisions. This facilitates safe evacuation and reduces the risk of unwanted sprinkler or suppression system release.

Unlike traditional smoke detectors up to 16cm in diameter, the sampling points for aspirating detectors are small (approx. 5cm dia.) and can be concealed behind ventilation covers or within fixtures, making them inconspicuous to facility occupants and visitors.

The aspirating approach is also much easier to maintain. Unlike traditional spot detectors, which must be tested individually and can be compromised by dust and dirt, aspirating systems can self-clean and detect any blockages or breaks in the tubing.

These systems not only stop false alarms due to dust or dirt contamination of sensors, but also can distinguish between smoke, fire and other airborne contaminants, which further reduces nuisance alarms.

Inspections are also simplified. Unlike traditional smoke alarms, aspirating systems do not require testing of each detector by introducing smoke directly into the chamber. Instead, the tests can be conducted at the central unit.

A Host of Commercial Facility Applications;

While traditional spot smoke detectors have been common in commercial applications, a growing number of facilities are successfully turning to aspirating detectors for a variety of reasons. They include:

1) Hospitals and Healthcare

While spot smoke detectors are relatively easy to install, testing of each unit, can be disruptive to patients, doctors, nurses and hospital personnel in a hospital and healthcare environment.

Servicing and testing can be performed at the central unit and only takes a few seconds per sample point. The fire alarm contractor can complete the inspection at any time without having to move patients or access restricted areas. 

By some estimates, this can greatly reduce maintenance and inspection costs and reduce the total cost of ownership of the fire alarm system by up to 60 percent.

3) Modern Facilities

Modern facilities often feature minimalist architecture where bulky spot smoke detectors look strikingly out of place. As such, there is a premium on making smoke detection blend in with the surroundings instead of clash with it.

4) Airports

Chief among the challenges of protecting airports from fire are massive open spaces such as terminals, baggage halls, hangars and warehouses where smoke is diluted. Detection is further complicated when air is moved or removed by HVAC systems. However, with the lives of passengers and the logistics of connecting flights on the line, such systems must give as early a warning as possible.

As an example, Delhi Airport Terminal 3, a transportation hub with the capacity to handle 34 million passengers annually, turned to aspirating technology. With eight levels 28 meters above the ground laid over four square kilometers, the terminal has more than 90 automated walkways and 78 aerobridges.

An aspirating system was specified for Delhi Airport Terminal 3 because of its advantages in protecting large, open spaces where smoke is diluted. The system continuously samples air to detect even the smallest smoke particles, preventing a small fire from becoming a major incident. The system buys time to investigate an alarm and initiate an appropriate response to prevent injury, property damage or business disruption.

Because these detectors are highly sensitive and include a multitude of sampling points that can be placed where smoke is most likely to travel, they excel at detecting diluted smoke – unlike conventional point and beam detectors.

5) Trains and Tunnels

When metro lines and subways transport passengers underground and through tunnels, the limited emergency exits and escape routes make early fire and smoke detection critical. This is complicated by air movement from passing trains, drafts and air conditioning that disperse smoke, as well as accumulated dust, humidity and pollutants that can trigger false alarms with traditional smoke detectors.

To protect the lives of passengers and prevent business disruption, a growing number of transportation administrators are utilizing aspirating smoke detectors in train and tunnel applications.

With flexibility in design, continuous air sampling is possible in a wide variety of locations including on ceilings, under floor voids and across return air intakes, as well as in cable ducts and electrical equipment cabinets.

Along with multiple configurable sensitivity threshold settings, this allows very early warnings for investigation and additional warnings for escalation, allowing an appropriate response plan, evacuation or suppression.

Because such systems can be self-cleaning and easily monitored from a central location, they are highly resistant to dust and dirt contamination, which dramatically reduces false alarms. In addition, some systems can also combine the detection of smoke and gases (carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, etc.), which can also be a danger at platforms, tunnels and confined spaces.

Protecting the Commercial Facility Bottom Line

Some managers of commercial facilities may be prone to use spot smoke detectors because of their familiarity with such traditional systems.

However, those who take advantage of the superior capabilities of aspirating detection systems will not only protect lives, property and reputation to a degree not previously possible in commercial settings, but also prevent serious liability and litigation in worst case scenarios.

Yours In Fire Safety

Alex

Acknowledgments; Ryan Sandler director of advanced detection for Xtralis, an industry leader in air-sampling technology for early warning smoke and gas detection.

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