Special Extinguishing Systems Require Special Dealers

Fire alarm companies across the United States are continually looking for new and innovative ways to make money. As a matter of company policy, many successful firms devise programs that encourage their employees to look for opportunities where they can sell system upgrades and ancillary services.

One of the ways that successful fire alarm companies do this is to look for special extinguishing systems that often require integration with already existing premises fire alarm systems.

Another term that many in the industry use when talking about special extinguishing systems is fire suppression system.

“We’re always looking for more ways to make money,” says Joe Mesich, president of Advanced Technical Services of Gallup, N.M. “And fire suppression systems are a huge part of that effort.”

Mesich’s firm installs the electronics used in a typical fire suppression, or special extinguishing system.

“Most of the work we do [with regard to special extinguishing systems] is already included in the scope of work, so if we do a fire alarm system, as in a public school building, we already know about the kitchen suppression system,” says Mesich.

Annex 6.11.6 of NFPA 72, 2002 — which used to be referred to as Appendix A in the 1999 code and prior — offers the following advice on what a fire suppression is and is not: “Automatic fire suppression systems referred to in 6.11.6 include, but are not limited to, preaction and deluge sprinkler systems, carbon dioxide systems, and dry chemical systems.”

For further clarification, Section 6.11.6 states that a space protected by an automatic fire suppression system will be served by an automatic fire detection device and that this device must be installed in accordance with Chapter 5 of the 2002 Code.

The job of looking for these additional sales opportunities not only falls on the heads of a firm’s regular sales force, but also to the installers and service technicians who visit these facilities on a regular basis.

Fire Code Requires Interconnection of Special Extinguishing Systems
Most, if not all, jurisdictions require special extinguishing systems be interconnected with existing fire alarms. Because this interconnection is a requirement and not an option, the owners of these facilities really have no choice but to comply.

In many cases, the client may need to be shown that such an interconnection is required by fire code. One way to gain greater trust and respect from the client is to show them Section 904.3.5 of the International Fire Code, published by the International Code Council (ICC).

ICC makes the need for interconnection very clear: “Where a building fire alarm system is installed, automatic fire-extinguishing systems shall be monitored by the building fire alarm system in accordance with NFPA 72.”

NFPA 72, NFAC, 2002 Edition also addresses the issue of integration between systems. In Section, it says, “The operation of an automatic fire suppression system installed within the protected premises shall cause an alarm signal at the protected premises fire alarm control unit.”

The two most significant concerns to the average fire technician should be: “What kind of device do I have to connect my fire alarm system to?” and “How do I find it inside the releasing panel?” Most of the time, the original installer of the special extinguishing system provides the necessary direction in this regard.

“If there is a hood suppression system or something like that installed on a job, we tell the owner that we have to install an addressable module and tie it into the hood system so that if it dumps, someone will be aware of it, especially if the system dials out to the local fire department,” says Mesich.

Some Fire Suppression Systems Are Mechanical in Operation
Most of the special extinguishing systems that fire alarm companies work with are commonly found in commercial kitchens, computer rooms, manufacturing and other applications where the risk of fire is greater than normal.

“We don’t supply the tank, the [extinguishing] agent or the releasing heads, but we do supply the releasing panels, smoke detectors — that type of hardware. Whatever the suppression system is that the client requires, we have someone else install all the components involved with the suppression agent. They tell us how to release it and we make it happen,” says Mesich.

In commercial kitchens, there are several types of special extinguishing systems in use. Most of them employ mechanical detection using fusible links, mechanical pulls and a spring-loaded cable system. These links are commonly installed inside range hoods, air ducts, filters, fryers, plenums, ovens and other locations where there is a risk of fire. The spring-loaded cable connects to each fusible link and mechanical manual fire pull, as well as gas valves and electric contactors (relays).

When the temperature in the vicinity of a fusible link reaches a specific level, the exposed link will melt, allowing the cable to retract. At the same time, this cable performs a number of other tasks.

When the cable is first released, it will trip the mechanical head atop one or more bottles that hold the extinguishing agent. The extinguishing agent is then permitted to exit through a series of nozzles that overlook food preparation equipment as well as those internal to the appliances.

Another task that the retracting cable performs is to trip an electrical contactor and/or mechanical gas shut-off valve. This is intended to knock the fire down as soon as possible by removing the fuel that feeds the fire.

Manufacturing Plants Commonly Employ Electronic Systems
Special extinguishing systems used in manufacturing plants are similar in operation to those found in kitchens, only they are bigger, use electronic fire sensors with releasing-type fire alarm panels and usually contain more extinguishing agent. Common agents include CO2, FM200, inergen, sapphire as well as halon in older systems.

Fire technicians usually monitor a set of relay contacts on the output side of a fire suppression system. When the premise fire alarm uses addressable technology, the technician must tie the fire suppression releasing panel to an addressable module.

“We don’t do the pipe work,” adds Mesich. “We just do the fire side — the suppression panels, smoke detectors, the modules we use to control the releasing agent, and we program accordingly.”

Manufacturing and other applications often require a much more aggressive approach to fire suppression. In this case, a typical fire suppression system consists of electronic smoke detectors, heat sensors, one or more releasing panels and a variety of other fire alarm appliances.

Releasing System Operation
This type of fire suppression system requires more expertise and know-how to install than a typical kitchen suppression system in several ways. First, the fire technician must have a working knowledge of the various modes of operation typically used in this type of environment. Two such operational modes include cross zoning and prealarm.

Cross zoning, for example, involves the use of two opposing zones to which smoke detectors and/or heat sensors are installed. Before release takes place, detection must occur in both zones.

The activation of a single zone can be made to sound a
prealarm signal, which is usually nothing more than a small bell in the same locale. Prealarm is designed to get the attention of those working in the environment. It enables them to intercept a developing problem before it results in the activation of the second, opposing zone.

Once the second zone trips, a system discharge countdown commences. This discharge delay gives those in the same locale enough time to either abort the release of extinguishing agent into the environment or evacuate the area. Evacuation prior to discharge minimizes the occupant’s exposure to the extinguishing agent, such as CO2.

Installers must also know the various types of fire and smoke sensors that are commonly used, such as rate-compensation heat sensors and line-type heat detection systems.


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