Hot Issues Swirl Around Fire Market

More than 3,740 people died in fires across the United States during 2001, 3,110 of them in residential structures. That’s more than the additional 2,451 that died the same year in the 9/11 attacks. All total, 17 people lost their lives each day in a raging fire, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) of Quincy, Mass.

U.S. fire departments responded to more than 1.5 million fires during 2004, which represents a 2.2-percent decrease compared to the year before. Outdoor fires also saw a decrease of 3.4 percent compared to 2003 (727,500). Nationwide, there was a civilian fire death every 135 minutes in 2003.

The fire service community is certainly doing all it can to prevent and protect people from fires. All of the people associated with the many fire industry organizations, such as NFPA and UL, are caring life-safety professionals who work hard every day to minimize fire deaths, injuries and property loss across the country.

SSI’s 2005 Fire Industry Report provides an up-to-the-minute overview of the various fire safety efforts being spearheaded by those leading organizations, as well as the enterprising suppliers and installing companies that manufacture, install and service these products. In addition, a number of charts are offered to provide a bird’s-eye view of the U.S. fire market.

Codes and Standards: Manufacturers Scrambling to Meet UL 864, 9th Edition Deadline
One of the most significant efforts underway in the life-safety arena — specifically the fire alarm community — is being carried out by manufacturers that make compliant control panels. The 9th edition of UL 864, Control Units and Accessories for Fire Alarm Systems, is pending and many manufacturers are scrambling to make the deadline. UL 864, 9th Edition, was first published in September 2003 with an implementation date of Oct. 1, 2005. Because the industry indicated it would not be able to meet this deadline, UL granted an extension.

“In April of this year, the alarm industry raised some very strong concerns with UL about manufacturers not being able to make the Oct. 1 date. Ultimately, after extensive negotiations, UL agreed to extend the effective date to March 31, 2006. This means in order to maintain their panel listing, they will already have had to submit samples so UL can complete the testing and review process,” says Isaac Papier, vice president, Industry Relations for Honeywell Life Safety in St. Charles, Ill.

Those manufacturers that took the original date seriously in 2003 were already poised to make the 2005 deadline. However, those that waited until the last minute are now scrambling to reengineer their panels to conform to UL 864, 9th Edition by the new target date.

Many of the changes within UL 864 may not impact most fire alarm panels now in use, but there are many that will. The most significant changes fire technicians need to know involve construction of the alarm panel can; the terminals to which devices connect; internal module placement/mounting; how information is displayed at the panel; and software revisions. SSI will cover the major changes that promise to affect technicians in upcoming installments of “Fire Side Chat.”

According to Papier, the reason some manufacturers have dragged their feet is because the process not only means allocating funds that were earmarked for other projects, but also dedicating engineering and other key resources to a task that was previously paid for when the 8th Edition of UL 864 was in place.

Bijal Thakkar, product manager, Fire Safety with Siemens Building Technologies Inc. (SBT) of Florham Park, N.J., agrees. “One of the things that has been impacted due to this [UL 864] is the resource allocation of companies to agency compliance projects vs. spending the same resources on new products or enhancements to existing ones,” he says.

Thus, many firms failed to act soon enough to make the first deadline. Some may not be successful in making the 2006 deadline either. Manufacturers Are Exempt; What About Fire Techs?
Although UL has extended the deadline for compliance with UL 864, 9th Edition for panel manufacturers, that may not excuse fire alarm companies from achieving compliance in their new fire alarm installations after Oct. 1. In certain cases, especially where the AHJ expects equipment listed to UL 864, 9th Edition, they may find themselves in a difficult position.

If the AHJ takes exception to the use of 8th Edition equipment, this could pose a significant problem for the fire alarm company. Fire alarm systems are usually installed to code with the intent of the client being granted an occupancy permit. If the system is not in conformance with UL 864, 9th Edition, this could result in a denial on the part of the building department, which could end up costing the fire alarm firm a lot of money.

“The UL extension does not change the fact that this UL standard was published and that it was placed in the public domain on Oct. 1, 2003. It does not prevent another certification agency from coming along and saying, ‘We only certify to the 9th Edition,’” says Papier. “Because UL 864 is also an ANSI standard. It is the law of the land.” The fact is if a fire alarm firm installs equipment after Oct. 1 using equipment listed to UL 864, 8th Edition, it could open itself up to litigation.

“There is the issue of liability, also an issue that if you contract to install equipment and the customer expects your equipment to be in full compliance with the latest standards, you have a problem. Who’s going to pay for the change-out? It likely will be the installer,” says Papier.

Papier suggests security dealers and fire alarm companies ask their suppliers whether the panels they sell are listed for the UL 864, 9th Edition standard. If the answer is no, then perhaps the installer needs to use another panel to stay out of trouble.

Another consideration for fire technicians involves the changes to products that have been redesigned to comply with UL 864, 9th Edition. Although they may bare the same brand identity, many of them will be as different from the original as day is to night.

“The big issue for the reader as models change to meet new requirements is the changes that have taken place due to reengineering. It will require them to familiarize themselves with the product,” says Gene Pecora, general manager, Power Products with Honeywell Life Safety of Northford, Conn.

Legislative Initiatives: NBFAA Leads Push for Sprinklers Legislation
In 2004, 78 percent, or 410,500, of all structural fires occurred in residential structures. Of the 3,900 civilian deaths that took place that year, 82 percent, or 3,198, took place in the home.

There are those in the life safety industry who believe that more can and should be done to lower this number. They represent significant efforts by organizations to legislate laws and codify equipment and installation standards that address not only the residential fire issue, but also specific applications, such as educational institutions, nursing homes and select commercial facilities.

The National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA) and others have been working in Washington to encourage Congress to legislate the use of sprinklers in nursing homes, campus environments and homes.

“The NBFAA has
embarked on a major effort to meet House and Senate members on Capitol Hill to expand the focus of present legislation involving fire safety,” says Georgia Calaway, public relations specialist with NBFAA of Irving, Texas. “We met with a number of elected officials to recommend fire detection be included in any final version of a number of pending bills. In addition, NBFAA’s lobbyists have begun meeting with members of the Congressional Fire Caucus, a major force in Congress on fire safety issues, as well as other groups involved in fire legislation and standards.”

Another effort spearheaded by NBFAA involves the association of alarm systems with sprinkler systems.

According to John Knox, president of Life and Property Security of Knoxville, Tenn., as well as NBFAA’s government relations co-chair, “With the recent nightclub and nursing home fires, Washington is now attentive to the issue of sprinkler systems in homes. Because of such fires, the Senate and House of Representatives are working on legislation that will require them in certain applications.”

Initiative Offers Financial Incentives to Colleges

Because sprinkler systems go hand in hand with fire alarm systems and supervisory or central station service, Knox says NBFAA is working to persuade Congress to include alarm system mandates in the same legislation that speaks to sprinklers.

“Part of this effort [also] involves a push to have Congress provide financial incentives to nursing homes and campuses to install sprinkler systems and alarms,” says Knox. The legislative effort Knox is referring to is H.R. 128, short titled: College Fire Prevention Act.

The bill’s description reads: “To establish a demonstration incentive program within the Department of Education to promote installation of fire sprinkler systems, or other fire suppression or prevention technologies, in qualified student housing and dormitories, and for other purposes.”

Specifically mentioned in the bill is the Nov. 9, 2003, early morning fire at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the fatal off-campus house fire at Allegheny College in Meadville, Penn. Also mentioned was the Jan. 1, 2003 fire that took place at Penn State University; the April 7, 2002 fire at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.; and the Feb. 16, 2002 residential fire that took place at Amherst College in Amherst, Mass., among others.

In January 2000, three students died in a dormitory at South Orange, N.J.‘s Seton Hall University in a blaze that also left 58 injured. Since then, the school has installed sprinkler systems, as did many other institutions of higher learning. But there are still far too many that remain without protection.

Earlier this year, FM Global of Johnston, R.I., conducted a demonstration using mock dormitory rooms in its burn lab.

According to a CBS News story broadcast on March 25, “In the first test, the fire was started in a trash can filled with paper. One minute and 22 seconds later, the smoke alarm went off. At three minutes, a real fire was blazing. Four minutes into the blaze, the temperature approached 1,000° F.

At four minutes and 41 seconds, flashover, and shortly after that, the windows blew out.”



Voice Communication Is Crucial in Directing People to the Right Exit

For years, the life safety market has been content to install conventional audible/visual notification appliance devices in commercial situations - even high-rise buildings in some cases. The understanding was that people were supposed to find their way to the right exit on their own.

Although voice communication - commonly known as voice evacuation - is not new, there are enhancements, new technologies and application trends within this segment of the life-safety market that fire alarm companies should know about.

“We see a tremendous increase in the use of voice evacuation in the fire industry today. In this case, it’s not code alone driving these changes, but the AHJs,” says Bob Barker, southwest regional manager with Gamewell in Northford, Conn., a Honeywell company.

“AHJs [and other civil authorities] want it because it increases their control over where the occupants go [when the fire alarm sounds]. Realworld incidents, such as hazardous chemical spills and bomb scares, are spurring this on,” says Beth Welch, marketing manager for Gamewell.

According to Barker, verbal instructions go a long way toward safe evacuation because it takes the guesswork out of the client knowing where to go. “There’s a phenomena that occurs in a fire where those people who hear and do try to evacuate often head directly into the fire instead of in the opposite direction,” he says.

In years past, about the only kind of voice communication system fire technicians installed involved the use of single-path audio, where people in the entire building heard the same message. More recent systems provide floor-by-floor coverage, allowing the fire alarm system to target specific floors while excluding all others.

“Once you digitize the message, you can do lots of things with it. You can localize it to certain areas,” says Pecora. “It’s not new, as audio distribution has been around for a while, but we’re seeing it used in more applications.”

The purpose behind audio distribution is to evacuate only the affected floors and those immediately above and below them. Whatever you do, you don’t want all 20 floors to attempt egress using the same exit routes.

“The trend is in education, but by code, all A occupancies rated for 300 people or more must have voice evacuation,” says Barker. “That has been the case for some time now.”

The industry is also moving toward an IP-based approach where control systems spaced throughout a high-rise or other large structure provide audio distribution, power and detection, all from the same network interface device.

Enhancing Notification Appliances and the Role White Noise Plays

In recent years, studies reveal a need for new, innovative approaches to the problem of occupant evacuation.

In other cases, there are those who refuse to leave a building because they don’t take the sound of a fire alarm seriously. Voice communication is different because there’s a human voice telling them what to do and exactly where to go. This is usually enough to get the attention of the most ardent of skeptics. “In a high-rise building, we’ve seen where some people do not evacuate because they think the alarm is false. We had an incident in California where some of the people in a building were so desensitized to alarms in general that when they had a real fire, it was hard to get people to leave,” says Barker.

One of the most tragic scenes witnessed by firefighters is the burned remains of a victim not more than a few feet from safety. “Firefighters see it all the time where people meet their demise several feet from an exit and they didn’t even know it,” confirms Pecora. This kind of tragedy occurs because occupants in a burning building may become disoriented. It’s not only because of the smoke and a general lack of visibility, but also the toxic atmosphere that they are forced to breathe.

“There is something we’re doing now called ‘directional sound’ using white noise. We place a directional sound generator near an exit and people are better able to tell where it is,” says Pecora. “The white noise generator actually draws people to it through the smoke so they find the exit.”

This way when they are relatively close to an exit, they’ll know it because of the sound of the white-noise generator near the exit. All they have to do is follow the sound of the whit
e noise to egress.

A white-noise generator creates a sound that includes nearly every frequency in the audio range. Because the human ear is especially sensitive to white noise, when placed in the right location, they can be made to lead occupants down stairways, through hallways and rooms, to exit doors.

Gamewell calls its white-noise generator system “Directional Sound,” and it can also be incorporated into exit sign designs for easy placement at exit doors, in addition to the traditional horn type device. In order to work during a fire alarm incident, a connection between the white-noise speaker and the building fire alarm system is necessary.

Horn/Strobe Advancements Help Reduce Power Needs

Another enhancement made available by NFPA 72, 2002 Edition, is a relatively new acoustic design technique that involves psychoacoustic research. This technology is intended to overcome ambient noise levels along with what is called a lower frequency masking phenomena.

“In 2002, NFAC [NFPA 72] recognized this need by including a new audible signaling requirement for optional use on fire systems. Called ‘narrow band signaling,’ and introduced in 1999, this technology was designed as a cost-effective method for making emergency messages heard in highnoise factories and other industrial areas,” says Todd Shearer, vice president of sales services for Wheelock Inc. of Long Branch, N.J.

The method for identifying the mask threshold, as prescribed in Section 7.4.5 of NFPA 72, 2002 Edition, is in accordance with International Standards Organization (ISO) 7731, entitled Danger Signals For Work Places - Auditory Danger Signals.

“The narrow band method is based on the fact that noise at one frequency range does not mask sound signals at different frequency ranges. Consequently, this new signaling method uses narrow [1/3] octave bands instead of broadband dBA and at least 10dB in one of the octave bands,” says Shearer.

According to Shearer, the purpose behind this new technology is to reduce the number of notification appliance devices required in the field. Not only will this lessen the end user’s cost, but it will lower the ever-growing power demands being placed on power supplies contained within today’s fire alarm control panels (FACPs) and horn/strobe power supply extenders.



Power, Detection, Addressability Among Trends on the Horizon

The use of larger, more powerful voice evacuation systems, heftier notification appliance devices and other power requirements routinely placed on today’s FACP’s internal and external power supplies have spurred the industry to take a step back and look at possible solutions.

“All these added things need more power. When I entered the fire alarm industry, there were 2A and 4A power supplies built into the alarm panels of that time. Now, 6A, 8A and 10A power supplies are more common,” says Pecora.

Smoke detection is also taking some radical turns as the industry works to detect fires in their early stages. For example, a new smoke detection technology that uses carbon monoxide (CO) as one of the criteria for detection has recently been developed by Bosch Security Systems of Fairport, N.Y.

Bosch’s FCP-500 Series smoke detectors looks nothing like most devices of its kind. Instead of incorporating an internal smoke chamber, as traditional smoke detectors do, it utilizes two sets of infrared emitters and photoreceptors in the space that surrounds the front of the detector.

“This technology represents one of the most significant advances in smoke detection that has taken place in decades,” says Tom Mechler, product marketing manager for Bosch. “The false alarm immunity, ease of maintenance and, of course, aesthetics are revolutionary in terms of market need.”

Mechler says the technology the FCP-500 Series uses is similar to existing photoelectric detectors, only Bosch eliminated the traditional smoke chamber. This does away with the effects of dust, dirt and insects that traditional smoke detectors have suffered from for decades.

Not only that, but Bosch’s new smoke detector line includes CO in its atmospheric analysis. According to Bosch, “The FCP-500-C also comes with a carbon monoxide sensor that greatly increases reliability by adjusting the chamber’s sensitivity to accommodate the level of CO, a normal byproduct of combustion.” The CO sensor is also available in traditionalstyle detectors.

Another trend, says Joe Ziemba, product manager, engineered systems with Ansul of Frankfort, Ill., involves the use of a new air sampling smoke detection technology that reportedly detects fire more rapidly than traditional spot-type detection.

“We’re seeing an increase in the sales of photoelectric smoke detection. To fill that segment of the market we sell the VESDA, which is kind of a condensed version of an early smoke detector,” he says. “It’s an early warning smoke detector for smaller environments. It samples the air, drawing it through the unit. It’s capable of detecting very small amounts of smoke.”

Jeff Hendrickson, director of marketing for Silent Knight of Maplegrove, Minn., a Honeywell company, says he also sees a huge increase in the use of addressable fire alarm systems.

“There’s a major motivation in the fire alarm industry to change from conventional panels to addressable. Addressable panels are very easy to install, set up and troubleshoot,” says Hendrickson.

Because each sensor in a fire alarm system using addressability has its own point address in the system, when anything at all happens and information is forwarded to the alarm control panel, the fire alarm technician will know right away which sensor sent it.

“I believe addressable systems will become the status quo someday,” says Hendrickson. “There may always be conventional panels out there, but they will be in the minority. It’s only a matter of time until the price point is such that people want addressable instead of conventional.”

Internet Monitoring in Life-Safety Applications Is on the Rise

Nick Martello, director of marketing with FireLite Alarms of Northford, Conn., a division of Honeywell Fire Systems, says Internet-based monitoring is a growing aspect of fire/life safety systems.

“There is a definite trend toward replacement of the dialer with the IP interface. This was started with the move to video verification. Many central stations have already installed receivers capable of monitoring realtime video over IP. Now, more and more companies are moving toward this type of communication for security and life safety monitoring,” says Martello.

According to Martello, the benefits associated with Internet monitoring include the elimination of high-cost phone line/service (in some locales); more frequent supervision of panels than the previous 24-hour test signal (with supervision pinging set as low as 90 seconds); and the elimination of the voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) problem with dialers going away (phone line remains as a back-up, but charges only accrue if and when the primary line fails).

“Internet monitoring is already finding huge acceptance in Canada since ULC adopted a concept called ‘dual media.’ You need to have either a cell phone and IP, standard dial-up and IP, or whatever [other media you can think of], as long as there are two different media choices,” says Martello. “Canada had offered supervised phone lines via the telephone company. Called DIVAX, the cost to users was upwards of $60 a month. Going to IP has saved users a lot of money.”

He adds that one drawback to Internet monitoring is that you will probably want to keep at least one of your pho
ne lines. “This is because the Internet does not have battery backup like the phone lines do.”

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