Averting Battery and PBX Hazards

Several months ago (see January issue), we talked about the installation and care of rechargeable gel cell batteries. This month, we will discuss battery disposal. In addition, we will discuss the problems fire technicians may encounter in business environments that employ a PBX telephone system.

Old Batteries Can Be Dangerous

Although battery disposal may not appear to be a hot topic among fire technicians today, it ought to be. This is because those who fail to follow the rules could end up in legal problems. Worse yet, their improperly disposed batteries could cause someone injury or a fire to take place.

The fact is batteries a fire technician considers depleted can still pack quite a wallop. I experienced this firsthand almost 20 years ago while carrying a depleted battery from my van into the shop. Evidently, two of my car keys came into contact with the positive and negative terminals on a 12VDC, 7AH gel cell rechargeable battery.

Because these keys were situated on a metal key ring, electric current was conducted through all of them. This heated up the whole lot, causing one or two of my fingers to be mildly burned before I discovered the problem and took appropriate action. Many a dumpster fire could have been avoided if the technician had used proper disposal procedures.

Different Batteries, Different Rules

In brief, alkaline primary batteries are considered household waste, which means you can dispose of them with the usual trash. However, secondary NiCd and lead-acid batteries must be recycled. Lithium batteries, on the other hand, must be disposed of as hazardous industrial waste, which requires a specific procedure.

If a fire alarm company disposes of less than 220 pounds of batteries during a 30-day period, disposal is fairly straightforward. Those who fit this mold are usually referred to as a conditionally exempt small quantity generator (CESQG).

A CESQG is permitted to treat or dispose of their battery waste either on-site or by transporting it to another location, where it can be stored, treated or disposed. The good news is that a CESQG is exempt under federal regulations from using a hazardous waste management facility.

A fire alarm company that bares the CESQG classification is free to use a common carrier when transporting depleted batteries that fit under the CESQG guidelines, such as United Parcel Service (the alternative is the use of a relatively expensive hazardous waste transportation company). In such a case, the fire alarm company would have to obtain a hazardous materials account with UPS before proceeding.

DOT Imposes Strict Regulations

The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires a hazardous bill of lading when shipping old batteries to a disposal site. Printed on the body of this document must be the words, “final destination,” along with the name and address of the disposal site.  A label must also be placed on the container that identifies the contents, in addition to a 24-hour response number that can be called if there should be any concerns or questions during transit.

Before you can ship your depleted batteries by UPS or any other common carrier, you must obtain the proper container approved for this task. One of the most common containers in use today is a special 5-gallon bucket made of plastic.
Another point to remember is that DOT officials require you ship your lithium batteries separately from your other batteries. It is not necessary to separate other types of batteries to comply. When packing, lithium batteries must also be wrapped separately or be placed in plastic bags so the contacts do not short out. The contacts on other battery types should also be wrapped with thick plastic tape, or each battery can be wrapped separately in plastic.
There are battery disposal services that will provide the bucket and special bill of lading specifically for this task.

PBX Poses DACT Reliability Issues

Let’s switch gears now to delve into what is perhaps one of the most disturbing areas associated with fire alarm systems and central station reporting – the backup power in PBX telephone systems and broadband communication channels over which fire signals often must travel.

Overcome PBX Via Battery Backup

Historically, battery backup has not been an issue when working with metallic, dial-up (loop start) telephone lines. In most cases, the only batteries involved are within the premise fire alarm panel and central office (CO). Because a CO usually maintains ample battery capacity for extended periods of operation without the public electric bus, this has not been a pressing consideration for the fire industry as a whole.

The first problem area is business-type PBX systems, where battery backup within the central processor is integral to code compliance.

“A DACT shall be connected to the public switched telephone network upstream of any private telephone system at the protected premises … and special attention shall be required to ensure that this connection is made only to a loop-start telephone circuit and not to a ground-start telephone circuit” (Section 5-, NFPA 72, 1999 Edition; Section 4-, NFPA 72, 1996).

The problem with PBX systems involves the use of a ground-start telco line, which is where the DACT connects to the outside world. Most business PBX systems employ ground-start technology, which operates by shorting one side of the telco line to earth ground. This is what causes a dial tone to appear on the subscriber side of the connection.
Because a typical PBX system must initiate a ground to one side of the ground-start telco line, power is necessary at the subscriber location. Unless battery backup is employed within the PBX system, this shorting action will not likely take place when the public electric bus fails. Because the fire technician has little or no control over the battery within the PBX, the integrity of the fire alarm system is obviously at question.

“It is always best that you do not go through a PBX system for DACT communications. But if there is no other way, then the technician must see that the telephone system has enough battery backup for at least 24 hours,” says Nick Markowitz, owner of Markowitz Electric Protection in Verona, Pa.

One way accomplish this is to actually research the current requirements of the PBX system and then calculate the appropriate battery backup. Another way to solve this problem is to work with the interconnect company in an attempt to assure battery integrity.

If Possible, Use Loop-Start Lines

If it were just backup power at issue with pulling up a dial tone when there happens to be a power failure, we could use a ground-start relay in conjunction with the DACT to short one side of the telco line to earth ground. This remedy is often utilized in burglar alarm systems. However, there is a second, admittedly more important issue that would prevent fire technicians from using ground-start telco lines altogether.

The problem is there is no way for the DACT to effectively monitor the integrity of the telco connection using this type of phone line. This is because until a dial tone appears, there is no voltage on the line for the DACT to monitor.

According to the added notes contained in Appendix A, Section A., 2002 National Fire Alarm Code Handbook: “On a loop-start telephone line, the public telephone utility continuously supplies voltage from the telephone utility wire center where the line originates. The vast majority of residential telephone connections use loop-start lines. In contrast, almost all business telephone connections, particularly those employing PBX connections, use ground-start lines.

“In order to obtain dial tone and operating power on a ground-start line, the user equipment m

If you enjoyed this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

Security Is Our Business, Too

For professionals who recommend, buy and install all types of electronic security equipment, a free subscription to Commercial Integrator + Security Sales & Integration is like having a consultant on call. You’ll find an ideal balance of technology and business coverage, with installation tips and techniques for products and updates on how to add to your bottom line.

A FREE subscription to the top resource for security and integration industry will prove to be invaluable.

Subscribe Today!

Get Our Newsletters