Asking the right questions on fire system specification

Asking the right questions on fire system specification

When specifying fire systems, it’s essential that all fire industry legislation and regulations are met. This brings peace of mind to all parties – both now and in the future. This can be a real minefield, especially for non-fire specialists. Amanda Hope, UK Business Development Manager at Advanced, a fire protection solutions manufacturer, explains more and suggests some questions you should be asking.

Knowing the right questions to ask can make the difference between finding a robust, reliable future-proof solution that builds trust in your service, and making mistakes that can put lives at risk and cost money and reputations.

Specifiers also need to be aware that the Building Safety Act will place formal responsibilities on those involved in the design and construction of any buildings to ensure compliance with Building Regulations, and will give the HSE, the Building Safety Regulator, greater powers to prosecute for non-compliance. It will be the duty of the people responsible for a building to put in place and maintain a golden thread of information, with their responsibility continuing for the life of the building.

Vital allies on the road to successful specification are the fire equipment manufacturers themselves. Steeped in the latest fire regulations and focused on ensuring product compliance, they have many answers that will help you to get the specification right first time.

But what to ask? Although far from exhaustive, following are some of the more important questions that specifiers should be posing to ensure optimal building occupant safety.

Can I expand the fire system in the future?

If you’re dealing with a large site with ongoing development, it’s important to check that the system you’re specifying will be easily capable of future expansion.

Find out whether the equipment you’re considering has been approved to EN 54 Part 13. This standard ensures that all selected products are compatible and requires a system to run automatic fault checking. This in turn assures optimal fire system performance and averts common problems that can jeopardise occupant safety. These include open and short circuits going undetected, as well as voltage reduction at the last devices on long cable runs, which can slow response speeds or even cause alarm failure on large networked systems, for example sounders not operating during a fire.

Is the system adaptable?

In the case of retrofit sites, backwards compatibility, and the ease of combining existing and new equipment are paramount. Finding out how flexible the fire panel and devices you’re considering can be is time well spent. Open- or multi-protocol fire systems allow much greater freedom of device choice allowing you to specify based on your building’s needs rather than on what’s available in a particular manufacturer’s range.

Another way in which specifying open protocol systems can aid occupant safety lies in the diligence they demand of the service companies employed to maintain them. Unlike with closed protocol systems, it is easy for building owners and managers to change the company they use to look after their open protocol fire system. This lack of ‘tie-in’ helps to ensure that systems are carefully maintained, and issues are quickly resolved in pursuit of customer service excellence, loyalty and safety.

Some panels have a built-in service tool that offers the added benefit of being able to record the servicing undertaken on each device for easy download into a saveable format and inclusion in risk reports. This feature allows convenient access to proof from the fire panel that devices have been individually tested.

Ultimately, specifying fire panels that work with a variety of pre-existing equipment, whilst also giving you free rein to design for optimum safety in a specific building, will be a decision you’re unlikely to regret.

Do I need to include an evacuation alert system?

Following the publication of the new Part B (Fire Safety) of the Building Regulations, it is now a mandatory requirement for new residential developments over 18m to incorporate an evacuation alert system.

An evacuation alert system is vital to help fire and rescue services inform residents of a change in evacuation strategy during an incident. To comply with the amended Part B, an evacuation alert system should be provided in accordance with the BS 8629 Code of Practice for the design, installation, commissioning, and maintenance of evacuation alert systems for use by fire and rescue services in England.

Currently the Part B requirement for an evacuation alert system only refers to new build high-rise residential buildings. However, since the Grenfell Tower Inquiry also recommends evacuation alert systems for high-rise residential buildings “already in existence”, further regulation may follow.

Asking the right questions on fire system specification
MxPro5 fire panel, large enclosure with 100 zonal LEDs

Does the system help tackle false alarms?

False alarms remain a persistent problem. Specifiers who consciously choose fire systems that effectively tackle this pernicious issue will reap the rewards in peace of mind – and repeat business.

Regular false alarms threaten occupant safety by allowing complacency and alarm fatigue to settle in. This can have serious knock-on effects if/when real fire situations occur, by wasting precious early evacuation time and putting lives at risk.

Wise questions to ask manufacturers include how easy it is to program their equipment to accommodate investigation delays and verification times that suit different areas of a building with varying false alarm risk levels. The latest false alarm management systems come with both alarm verification and investigation options.

Alarm verification is used to automatically check if an activated device is genuinely signalling fire before a fire condition is displayed on the panel. This is ideal for when the designated responsible person is not always available on site. Here the system will work independently and can verify the alarm without human input. The system is flexible, accommodating many timing options and scenarios. This reduces false alarms since the verification delays check whether there is genuine reason for the alarm to activate before the signal is latched onto the fire panel.

Meanwhile, investigation delays are used to allow the occupant to physically check if an activated device is genuine after a fire condition is displayed on the panel. This option is ideal when there is a responsible person on site.

Also seek clarification about the ease of adapting the false alarm management to suit changes in building use. As a rule, if it’s easy to do, it will get done well.

Does the manufacturer have a wide range of equipment and system features?

The success of a building’s design lies in how well it fulfils its purpose and suits the needs of its occupants. The same is true of the fire system that protects it.

For example, schools frequently require provision for ‘lockdown’ or ‘invacuation’ to ensure pupil safety from a range of outside threats. Therefore, by using the existing circuitry and incorporating dedicated sounders when operating a specific device, staff are alerted that there is a threat outside and to go immediately to the dedicated safe areas. Or in some buildings a fire system may be required to deal with a bomb threat. Here fire panels can be programmed to trigger a specific tone, different to the fire tone, to alert personnel to exit the building. Meanwhile, gas suppression systems are valuable in protecting critical sites, where the use of water could be almost as damaging to building contents as the fire it would be used to quell, such as data centres, control rooms, power generation facilities and archives.

Checking that a particular fire system can easily accommodate these requirements is sensible, as your overall solution is more likely to be well implemented by installation companies if equipment is quick and easy to fit and has a proven track record.

It is well worth checking with manufacturers how they can tackle each of these important areas – whether they have their own solutions for each or require integration with third-party equipment for full protection.

Integrating the fire system with third-party BMS, along with smoke damper control, sprinkler monitoring or HVAC systems offers a host of advantages for those tasked with ensuring the safety of occupants within a building. These include greater efficiency, lower operating costs, and a more secure and responsive building environment. In addition, remote system monitoring is also increasing in popularity, especially when there is not always a responsible person on site.

The quality of your specification will affect the quality of the installation and how effective it is at safeguarding lives. Choosing a fire equipment manufacturer that offers a wide range of options ensures compatibility of each part, confident and competent installation, and successful outcomes for all.

In conclusion, the success of any fire system and the level of safety it affords to those it protects are directly linked to the quality of the original specification. Building knowledge and understanding of what various fire system manufacturers’ equipment can and cannot do is a crucial step in ensuring occupant safety. Manufacturers are a deep mine of valuable information for specifiers to explore. By working together, we can avoid common pitfalls and create a safer future.

About Advanced 

Advanced is a world leader in the development and manufacture of intelligent fire and life safety systems. Advanced’s reputation for performance, quality and ease of use see its products specified in locations around the world, from single-panel installations, to large, multi-site networks. Advanced’s products include complete fire detection systems, multiprotocol fire panels, extinguishing control, fire paging, false alarm management systems and emergency lighting.

Advanced is owned by FTSE 100 company Halma PLC – a global group of life-saving technology companies with a clear purpose to grow a safer, cleaner, healthier future for everyone, every day.

Tel: +44 (0)345 894 7000