Make the Connection With Special Hazard Systems

Last month’s “Fire Side Chat” discussed expanding sales by identifying opportunities that involve special extinguishing systems – specifically, the interconnection of a special hazard fire suppression system with a building’s general fire alarm system. This month, we will talk about the technical aspects surrounding this connection, including practical installation tips with code references.

From a code standpoint, the act of connecting a special extinguishing system, also called a specialty system, to a building fire alarm system is not an option – it’s a requirement. In most cases, the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) will expect it.

According to Section of NFPA 72 (2002 edition) published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) of Quincy, Mass., “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.”

“It’s very important that a specialty system in a building be tied into the general fire alarm system. The safety of all concerned depends on it,” says Dug Miller, vice president with BeSafe Fire & Security Systems of Canton, Ohio. To comply with local code, fire technicians will usually be required in a new facility to submit blueprints to the local building department for a permit to do the work.

“I believe it’s important that we monitor our fire suppression systems with our general fire alarm system,” says Chuck Haiduc, director of maintenance with Shadylawn Health Care Community in Dayton, Ohio. “Because it is monitored, the fire department will respond faster when there’s a fire and someone in the facility will automatically know about it.”

Understanding What a Specialty System Is, and What It Is Not
Let’s review what a specialty system is: “Special extinguishing systems are used in locations where automatic sprinklers may not be the best solution to fire problems. These locations include areas that contain flammable and combustible liquids, food preparation equipment and highly sensitive computer or electronic equipment (“Fire Inspectors and Code Enforcement,” published by the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) of Stillwater, Okla.). The International Code Council (ICC) provides us with further direction on specialty systems.

Chapter 9, Section 901.4.3 of the “International Fire Code (IFC),” published by ICC, says, “In occupancies of a hazardous nature, where special hazards exist in addition to the normal hazards of the occupancy, or where the fire code official determines that access for fire apparatus is unduly difficult, the fire code official shall have the authority to require additional safeguards.

“Such safeguards include, but shall not be limited to, the following: automatic fire detection systems, fire alarm systems, automatic fire-extinguishing systems, standpipe systems, or portable or fixed extinguishers. Fire protection equipment required under this section shall be installed in accordance with this code and the applicable referenced standards.”

Engineered vs. Pre-Engineered Special Extinguishing Systems
Before a fire technician can successfully interface a building fire alarm system with a specialty system, a basic understanding of the latter is in order. There are two basic kinds of specialty systems in use – pre-engineered and engineered. According to “Fire Inspection and Code Enforcement,” published by IFSTA, “An engineered system is specifically calculated and constructed for a specific hazard. Engineered systems tend to be large, expensive systems. The most common system, the pre-engineered or packaged system, is calculated to protect areas of a given size and may be installed at any location”

Pre-engineered systems are commonly used in restaurant and small commercial/industrial applications, while engineered systems usually involve larger, specific hazards. We will focus on pre-engineered specialty systems because they are the most commonly used.

3 Things to Do Before the Fire Technician Begins the Work
There are three preliminary things a fire alarm technician should do before beginning the process of integration. First and utmost in the mind of the fire technician should be the issue of limiting the electrical impact of one system upon another.

For example, Section 6.11.7 of NFPA 72, 2002, says, “If the releasing panel is located in a protected premises having a separate fire alarm system, it shall be monitored for alarm, supervisory and trouble signals, but shall not be dependent on or affected by the operation or failure of the protected premises fire alarm system.”

The second thing to consider is how the interconnection is to take place. In order to do this, a thorough examination of the specialty system is in order. The make and model of the system must be determined before proceeding.

Armed with the make and model, the fire technician must obtain either technical information on the specialty system, to understand the manner of actuation, or a phone call should be made to the installer of that system. Fire technicians new to this type of work might consider doing both.

The third thing the fire alarm technician must do, according to National Fire Alarm Code (NFAC), is to notify all parties involved, including the building occupants and fire authority. If the general fire alarm system is monitored, the system should be placed on test.

Take Precautions Not to Activate Special Extinguishing Systems
There’s actually a fourth item in a fire technician’s list of things to do before jumping into the task of interfacing specialty systems with building fire alarms. They must take precautions not to inadvertently trigger the specialty system being worked on.

When working with pre-engineered systems, such as the Ansul system pictured at left, care must be exercised when removing cover plates and working inside the panel.

“You should always disarm these specialty systems before you work on them, even if it means only connecting a set of wires in a panel,” says Miller. “If you haven’t worked on these systems before, you should have a licensed [special hazards] technician disarm the system for you so it cannot be inadvertently triggered.”

In the photo on page 28, Miller is shown removing a nitrogen cartridge before doing any work inside the panel. The cartridge is used to pneumatically activate the releasing head inside the system. By removing it, the main tank cannot release its chemical no matter what Miller does inside the panel.

Once the fire technician has performed each of the steps above – including the notification of testing at the premises with the local occupants, remote supervisory monitoring station and the fire department – the fire technician is free to connect the building fire alarm system to the specialty system without fear of a mistake.


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