Apartment Complex Installs Fire Alarm Communicator, Cuts Costs

By Ashley Willis

WILMINGTON, N.C. — To help Avalon Luxury Apartments eliminate phone lines as the main pathway for reporting fire alarm signals to a central station, ASG Security installed Honeywell’s IPGSM-DP fire alarm communicators in each of the complex’s 17 buildings.

Each building in the apartment complex, located here, has a Fire-Lite Alarms MS-9200UDLS fire alarm system. However, with the control panels using two telephone lines — a primary and a backup — it cost the property manager $90 per month for both phone lines. In total, the property manager paid $1,530 monthly in phone line expenses.

Although ASG did not install the Fire-Lite system at Avalon Luxury Apartments, the integrator worked with the property management company on other projects. That relationship prompted the company to contact ASG for an alternative solution to using phone lines, ASG Sales Consultant Justin MacDaniel tells SSI.

“The property manager had inquired about a cellular communicator because it was something that the market really wanted,” he says. “It happened that Honeywell had a product that would work for the project. Timing was everything.”

Among the IPGSM-DP’s benefits, it connects with the central station every five minutes in contrast to the once-a-day check-in usually performed when using traditional phone lines. Additionally, the communicator uses IP and global system for mobile communications (GSM) technology. Used together, the technologies improve the reliability and speed of communications over single path technology, according to Honeywell.

ASG was unable to start the installation immediately. Because it was the first time that any Wilmington-based building would use the IPGSM-DP cellular communicator, the device had to receive approval from the local AHJ, the Wilmington Fire Department’s Fire and Life Safety Division.

“It was a little unorthodox that we couldn’t jump right onto the project despite the interest and verbal OK from the end user,” MacDaniel says. “But we’ve got an excellent fire marshal here as far as staying true to the code. The department didn’t want us to install anything that didn’t do what it is supposed to do.”

When the department’s Captain Kenneth Bogan checked to see if the IPGSM-DP met state fire code requirements, he stumbled upon a problem. While state code requires fire departments to use NFPA 72 to determine how to design, install, maintain and repair a system, it utilized the 2002 edition.

“When the fire code updated, it brought us up to NFPA 72, 2007 Edition,” Bogan tells SSI. “However, alternative means of communication, such as the IPGSM-DP device, is not well covered in that edition. So our office used the 2010 edition to solve the problem because it’s the best document that addresses these types of devices. We had a very tricky trail to follow in order to verify code compliance.”

To make sure that he had interpreted the code correctly, Bogan contacted the state’s Department of Insurance in Raleigh, N.C. After doing extensive research, the department determined that the IPGSM-DP was indeed a code-compliant device. It took two weeks for the communicator to gain AHJ approval.

ASG Security then began installing the devices, which MacDaniel says was a breeze. The IPGSM-DP mounts within three feet or so of the fire alarm control panel, and ties into the control panel’s existing phone line ports.

“With a minor amount of programming, it took us between three to four hours per panel,” MacDaniel says. “This was our first job with the products; so obviously, we had to allow some time. Now that we have it down, the entire installation takes about two hours.”

Powered by its own plug-in transformer, the unit accommodates a 24-hour battery back-up. Backup power is essential for North Carolina, which sits in the middle of Hurricane Alley, according to MacDaniel.

The 2012 SAMMY-nominated ASG Security, which provides a full range of security systems and services to more than 140,000 residential and commercial customers throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, Oklahoma and Texas, will now provide alarm monitoring for Avalon Luxury Apartments.

“We didn’t do any of the monitoring prior, so we took over their fire alarm monitoring at $25 a month per panel,” MacDaniel says. “We also assess a fee of $5 more a month for the cellular service because we have to pay to use the cellular tower.”

So far, the property manager is pleased with the devices, as well as ASG Security’s service. For other alarm companies considering offering the IPGSM-DP to clients, MacDaniel says that other than the technology, a good selling point is the product’s return on investment (ROI).

“The customer will see ROI in less than a year, which is something that our customers are jumping all over,” he says. “If they can cut the costs of two dedicated phone lines, it’s worth the one-time up front cost of $850 for the actual device to save all that money in the long run.”

Ashley Willis is associate editor for SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION. She can be reached at (310) 533-2419.

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