Fire safety: Fire alarm early warning systems

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Special to Ontario Construction News

Whether a newly erected or aging structure, the evacuation (or evac) sequence of operations programmed into the fire alarm system will determine the required evacuation strategies. These strategies are to be carried out by building supervisory personnel in the event of a fire emergency on the premise. The elements of the evacuation procedures, the fire alarm system operational features, etc. are only a few of the key ingredients that must be included in the fire safety plan. An approved fire safety plan is required in order to obtain occupancy of the building upon completion of construction.

Most manufacturers offer single, two, and modified stage fire alarm panels, each having their own programmable audible output tones. A single stage fire alarm system is programmed so that once any manual pull station, automatic smoke or heat sensor, sprinkler flow switch, etc. is activated, the audibles deliver a steady tone throughout the entire building, requiring all occupants to evacuate the premise simultaneously.

A two stage (including a modified stage) system is programmed to create a rhythmic pulse on the first stage to provide notification only to all the occupants regarding a potential threat of fire in the building. In the event of an actual fire emergency, the two stage feature is activated, delivering an accelerated signal of the audibles, and prompting occupants to evacuate the building. Depending on the programmed feature, a first stage alert signal may be one pulse every two seconds, and the second stage one pulse every second. In high-rise buildings and other occupancies such as hospitals, arenas, detention facilities, etc. an emergency voice alarm communication system is employed to allow for pre-recorded and manual voice messages such as the fire services directing the evacuations to different areas of the building, or announcing to stand fast and await further instructions until the source of the fire alarm has been investigated.

It is highly recommended that building operators and managers review the fire system features listed in the approved fire safety plan again those listed in the annual test and inspection reports issued by their equipment service provider.

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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