Fire safety: Emergency back-up power for buildings

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©CAN STOCK PHOTO/KJEKOL

Special to Ontario Construction News

Having reliable back-up electricity during a power outage is an integral part of highrise commercial and residential buildings, large industrial complexes and institutional occupancies. This back up power source is capable of operating under supervisory conditions to provide electricity to the essential equipment in a building, such as the emergency voice/alarm communications systems, exit fixtures and remote lamps means of egress illumination, fire alarm control panels, sprinkler monitoring systems, etc. Although all of this equipment is designed with internal battery back-up components, operational limitations are presented when the batteries are drained of their power.

Buildings equipped with an emergency generator provide a secondary source of electrical power whenever the incoming primary energy supply is disrupted or discontinued. Power outages for corporate businesses have a significant economic impact and the longer the business is without electricity, the greater the economic loss. When unexpected power failures occur, the intended purpose of the generator is to supply uninterruptible power to support the critical electrical systems of the building.

Generators may also be connected separately to the electrical circuits which power the fire alarm control panels, smoke control systems, door locking mechanisms, in addition to firefighter elevators, stairwell and common area lighting, pressurization fans and fire pumps, etc.

Maintaining the operability and functionality of generator and backup power systems is of the upmost importance. Failure to perform the mandatory fire code service and maintenance procedures may present life-threatening conditions to the building occupants during a power outage.

The Northeast blackout of August 2003 is a stark reminder of the consequences that can unfold. Each city-approved fire safety plan provides full details on the scheduled checks, inspections and testing required for the power back up systems in the building. The maintenance records, which verify completion of audits and any corrective action to repair defects or deficiencies for generators, are to be retained at the building premises for examination by fire officials for a period of at least two years.

This article was contributed by Firepoint Inc., serving the GTA since 1997, developing fire department approved fire safety plans for newly constructed and existing buildings. See www.firepoint.ca or call (905) 874-9400.

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