Advances Help Eclipse Fire Fatalities

Annual report addresses fire/life-safety market’s trends, technologies, controversies, codes and opportunities. Learn how fire systems contractors can continue to build on a 20-year run of declining incidents, deaths and injuries.

The good news is that, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there has been a steady and dramatic decrease in the number of fires the past 20 years — with 2008’s total of 1.45 million being less than half of what it was in 1977. During that same period, home fire deaths dropped from 5,865 to 2,775 (53 percent) and injuries declined 48 percent. Clearly, preventative measures, including advances in electronic detection systems, have made a monumental difference. 

On an annual basis, SSI publishes its Fire Market Report, an overview of fire/life-safety activities to help installing systems companies better understand the needs, trends and technologies presently driving the industry.

This year, we’ll take a look at mass notification technology, multiple-sensor fire detection, sprinkler monitoring and video fire detection. Interspersed among these topics is newly compiled data depicting key business metrics.

Code Clarifies Mass Notification

When a large-scale emergency occurs there’s often little time to act. Yet failure to do so quickly and effectively can and often does result in the injury and death of sometimes hundreds, even thousands of people, not to mention the destruction of personal and public property. Structural fires, wildfires, massive floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and terrorist acts are examples of the kinds of things that often threaten unsuspecting people on a daily basis.

Poor planning or delayed response, largely due to an inadequate emergency notification infrastructure, typically results in the loss of lives. Examples include Hurricane Katrina (2005); the World Trade Center bombing (1993); the Enschede fireworks disaster (2000) in the Netherlands where 22 died, 947 were injured and more than 1,500 homes were destroyed or damaged; and the 9/11 World Trade Center attack (2001).

“As a result of the tragedy of Khobar Tower in Dhahran [Saudi Arabia], the Department of Defense decided they needed a method of supplying large groups quickly in an effort to save lives and minimize damage,” says Marvin Gunderson, chief of fire and emergency services in Fort Knox, Ky. “This led authorities to create the United Facilities Code and the DOD mass notification system requirements.”

In 2003, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) decided that the fire alarm platform would make a good starting point for the design of an effective mass notification system (MNS). Fire alarm systems possess many of the qualities that USAF and civilian experts want in an ideal MNS.

Thus, USAF asked NFPA to participate in the development of a code set that would support the equipment and installation standards necessary for MNS. So the NFPA Standards Council was assigned the task of reviewing and implementing USAF’s request.

NFPA eventually became involved in writing the Unified Facilities Code (UFC), which is published and enforced by the DOD for both installations in the continental U.S. and abroad. NFPA consequently included MNS technology in Annex E of the 2007 Edition of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code. In the 2010 Edition, NFPA has incorporated MNS technology into the main body of the code. This will carry more weight because where the Annexes provide good ancillary information, the code itself is considered gospel.

Paraphrasing the 2010 Edition of NFPA 72’s introduction: A new emergency communications systems (ECS) chapter provides requirements for in-building mass notification systems, wide-area mass notification systems, distributed recipient mass notifications systems, two-way radio communications enhancement system, and area of refuge emergency communications systems. Two systems formerly located in the chapter on protected premises fire alarm systems — (in-building fire) emergency voice/alarm communications systems and two-way in-building wired (telephone) emergency services communication systems — are now included in the ECS chapter.

Hopefully communities will adopt this new code as they move forward with their own anti-terrorism and natural disaster plans. It’s important to know and understand what mass notification is, what the technologies are that fall under its purview and how MNSs are to be implemented.

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