Smart Buying Can Lead to Profitable Service

Top fire technicians are constantly working to stay abreast of the latest advancements in fire detection technology. Having the latest and greatest enables fire alarm companies to provide their clients with advanced systems and sell more equipment in the process.
These highly motivated men and women also are constantly on the lookout for new and innovative high-tech skills that will distinguish them as professionals in their communities. Having up-to-date expertise and test equipment also enables them to better service their clients while opening new and exciting revenue streams.

In this month’s “Fire Side Chat,” we will discuss several potentially profitable products, as well as one or two service tools that promise to make the technician’s life easier and customers happy. Those who use these products will invariably realize additional sales opportunities, and those who buy the latest in high-tech tools will be better able to face each day’s challenges with greater confidence and skill.

Strobes Offer Market Appeal

Conventional notification appliance circuit (NAC) power supplies and fire alarm control panels are often used in emergency situations other than fire detection. These control systems are versatile enough to be used in a variety of applications. Such applications include, but are not limited to, evacuation as related to chemical spills and tornadoes.

Detection devices of almost any kind can be employed – such as specially designated manual pulls, temperature sensors, water detectors and gas sensors – and can be connected to initiating device circuits (IDCs).

No matter whether automatic or manual initiating devices are used, notification is the primary objective in such a system. For this purpose, ordinary NAC devices, such as those used in life-safety systems, can be employed. However, outward modifications of the appearance and sound of these devices is a must.

This is especially true when a fire alarm system is employed within the same building as other NAC devices. When used in this manner, occupants must be able to discern the difference between a fire situation and other emergency conditions. A good example of this is a manually activated tornado-alert system.

The distinction of audible signals is generally not a problem as most modern audible NAC devices provide more than one tonal sound and rhythmic pattern. For example, the Select-A-Horn brand of horn/strobe devices, manufactured by the American Security Equipment Company (AMSECO) of Carson, Calif., comes with two distinctly different tones. Tone and rhythmic pattern are both tied to the Audible Emergency Evacuation Signal, a standard developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) based in New York.

A distinctly different visual look to the NAC device is also a wise consideration. In other words, where a typical NAC device in a fire-alarm system is red with a clear strobe lens, another color should be used for both the device and strobe lens that enables occupants to quickly distinguish the difference between them.

A good example of a blue lens being used is a school for the hearing-impaired in Delaware. According to Tom Fessler, vice president of sales and marketing for AMSECO, every classroom, hallway, bathroom and conference room within the school was equipped with a NAC device featuring a blue lens.

“In the event of an emergency, these strobes are to be activated using an emergency button in the principal’s office and two or three other locations,” says Fessler. “When the students see the blue strobes flashing, they are to immediately go to the nearest monitor and turn to the emergency channel for instructions on what to do.”

Watching Fire Extinguishers

Another way for fire technicians to generate additional revenue is to provide the EN-Gauge Switch, manufactured by Mija Inc. of Rockland, Mass. Depending on the state you operate in, this remarkable product will help your clients reduce the burdensome task of inspecting their fire extinguishers every 30 days.

According to Mija, “Electronically monitored fire extinguishers are the latest advance in the fire protection industry, and can be connected to any new or existing fire alarm or security system.”

In a conventional fire alarm system, this is accomplished using a spare IDC. In an addressable system, it can be accomplished using a transponder module.

“EN-Gauge™, a UL-Listed, multi-patented, active monitoring capability for fire extinguishers and extinguishing systems, addresses three requirements of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 10 inspections in commercial settings: monthly monitoring for pressure, obstruction and presence,” the company says.

Mija’s original claim to fame in the fire industry was the mechanical pressure gauge for fire extinguishers. Recently, the firm developed a revolutionary electronic gauge that is able to alert the end user locally through the use of a piezoelectric sounding device built into Mija’s EN-Gauge system. This system also can be connected to an alarm panel, thus enabling the central monitoring station to also be alerted when pressure is lost.

Mija offers an additional electronic component that checks the area in front of an extinguisher for obstructions. The system is designed to do this every 15 hours, which more than exceeds the requirements set forth in NFPA 10.
The EN-Gauge Switch looks like a traditional pressure gauge except that it has a wire linking it to a sensor interface module (SIM). The SIM mounts in the wall below the extinguisher where it can “see” the area in front of it (see photo on page 36 of May issue of Security Sales & Integration).

A magnet-backed needle inside the gauge that indicates pressure, called a Hall-effect switch, is used to activate a sensor. When the needle drops beyond an accepted level, the Hall-effect switch detects the magnetic field, signaling the SIM device. A 9V battery is used inside the SIM to operate the Hall-effect sensor.

One of the requirements of NFPA 10 is that occupants have ready and immediate access to all fire extinguishers. In order to detect obstructions that could prevent access in an emergency situation, a small ultrasonic sensor is used inside the SIM unit.

The SIM sensor uses inaudible ultrasonic sound that operates at a frequency of 50KHz. The unit sends out a pulse of sound (chirp) and if it bounces back (return echo), the sensor must assume there is an obstruction before the extinguisher. Maximum distance is 2 1⁄2 feet with an angle on all axes of 60°.

According to Mija, the Utah State Fire Board has amended its fire code to permit the use of electronic monitoring of fire extinguishers in lieu of physical inspections. State fire authorities in Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire and New Jersey are also in the process of taking the proper steps to allow electronic monitoring. In addition, New York, Georgia, and Massachusetts are looking at the issue of electronic monitoring.

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