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Zoned Fire Alarm System Cures Hospital’s Detection Disruptions

The new St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center located in Twin Falls, Idaho, has installed a state-of-the art fire detection system that integrates with other security and life safety systems to minimize disruptions to unaffected areas.




Wide Variety of Detectors InstalledThis photo depicts four beam smoke detectors pointed in slightly different directions across a large area. When smoke rises up and crosses the beam of one of these detectors, it is quickly verified as real smoke and a smoke alarm is sent to the main control panel. In this instance, there are more beam detectors placed on the opposite side of the room for cross-zoning to provide additional confirmation of an actual smoke/fire event, thereby reducing the risk of a false alarm if someone or something should ever block one the beams.

Similarly, a variety of advanced detector technologies from System Sensor were used throughout the hospital to provide protection, yet minimize false alarms.

“We have heat detectors, smoke detectors, ion detectors. We have such a variety of protection levels and they’re all set for certain areas,” says Rothfuss. “The variety of detection that we have is so state-of-the-art that it accommodates everybody.”

For example, he explains, in the hospital’s mechanical spaces, where maintenance staff is working all the time, such as grinding metal, heat detectors are used in place of smoke detectors.

Beam detectors are used in the front lobby, which is two stories high. Beam detection was chosen to cut down on the amount of smoke detectors needed for proper space coverage.

The hospital’s I.T. server room is covered by an aspirating system. This air sampling system has its own dedicated E3 Series panel tying it to the overall fire alarm network.

Another priority was to minimize impacts to surgeries during a fire alarm event, says Curtis. So in the operating suites, they installed two laser detectors that combine four different technologies to verify the presence of smoke and fire. A photoelectric chamber monitors airborne particulate for smoke; electrochemical cell technology senses for carbon monoxide (CO) produced by smoldering fires; infrared (IR) sensing measures for light and flame signatures; and thermal detection monitors temperature. To ensure rapid, accurate detection, both detectors in each suite are cross-zoned and their signals sent to a surgery control desk for alarm confirmation.

“The alarm detection doesn’t immediately initiate a response — it’s verified and checked, first,” says Curtis. “That was used to provide kind of a pre-indication that maybe we were approaching a smoke threshold. Certain operations and procedures generate smoke. We wanted to make sure that procedure wouldn’t just ‘bam!’ and set off a fire alarm.

“Being that the facility uses a total area coverage approach, we didn’t have the option of eliminating detection in that space altogether,” he adds.

Fire System Integrates With Access, HVAC and More

St. Luke’s fire alarm network is fully integrated with access control systems, air handling, elevator controls and more, says John Lopez, owner/construction manager of Fire Sentry Systems Inc. in Kuna, Idaho, the local Gamewell-FCI distributor who handled the project. That heavy integration means a lot of automated responses when an alarm is tripped in a smoke zone.

“Doors would drop, HVAC units would shut down and dampers would close. It would close off the particular smoke zone as if it were the only area of coverage in the building,” he says.

A pre-alarm in the operating suites initiates certain exhaust functions, closing individual dampers, ramping up the dedicated air-handler unit for the suite to 100% to exhaust the air — ideally pulling the smoke out before reaching alarm state. Work on integration with the air-handling system was extensive and mimicked the zoning inherent in the smoke detection system.

“We wanted to minimize disruptions, even on the air systems. Patient care being paramount here, under certain conditions, shutting down air to areas of the hospital can be a big deal pretty quickly,” says Curtis. “We worked out a zoned approach on all of the dampers, and there were 560-plus dampers that had to be controlled. We placed zone controls for dampers within a smoke zone, then cross-zoned all the dampers on the dividing walls — we ended up with probably 30 or 40 separately controlled zone groups.”

Planning an alarm response was intense, particularly when the issue is infant safety. To avoid an infant abduction taking place due to a bogus fire alarm opening all entryways, the E3 Series system is programmed to limit access to the maternity ward until the alarm is verified and cleared.

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Article Topics
Fire/Life Safety · Fire/Life Safety 2 · Beth Welch · CO Detection · Exclusive Web Features · Fire Alarms · Fire Detection · Gamewell-FCI · All Topics
Beth Welch, CO Detection, Exclusive Web Features, Fire Alarms, Fire Detection, Gamewell-FCI, Health Care


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