Case Study: Learn Fire Safety Lessons Before Disaster Strikes

By Jeff Hendrickson, Silent KnightAtlantic City, N.J.—In September 2006, a service call was made to Fire Alarm Maintenance Company (FAMCO) of Aston, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. The call came from the Plaza Condominium, a 14-story high-rise on the Atlantic City boardwalk. The Plaza’s fire alarm system had failed and required urgent attention.Upon arriving on site, FAMCO technicians determined that the panel had self-destructed. And despite every effort to restore the control panel to normal operation, it was completely unsalvageable. “It was an outdated system, one that had been out of production for about 15 years,” said Ken Scott, president of FAMCO, which had acquired the service and repair contract for the Plaza’s system. “There was no technical support being provided for it anymore, no parts being manufactured. This system was clearly on its way out—permanently.” It was the original system from the building’s opening in 1965 and although Plaza management was unaware of it at the time, the failure turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The Plaza started a search for a more modern, efficient system that would give the residents of the Plaza’s 158 luxury units a new system to protect themselves and their belongings. After contacting the Atlantic City fire marshal, the Plaza was forced to go into a “fire watch” mode. This involved having a guard continually walking through the building on alert for any fire events and, if one were to arise, reporting it to the proper authorities, since any automatic warning capabilities were no longer available.Dr. Claude Damico, general manager of the Plaza, was also faced with finding a suitable replacement for the system. The existing system was prone to false alarms due to its old technology and comprised of a single, conventional-type panel board, it was not addressable, and unable to pinpoint the exact location of a fire event when the alarm went off. And while there were 110-volt horns located throughout the hallways, there were no sounding devices in the individual units. Consequently, if a resident were in the shower or listening to loud music, he or she might not hear the horn and would be unaware that a fire might be spreading. There were sprinklers in each of the units, but those played no part in giving the resident early warning in the event of a real problem.Ultimately, Damico and the Plaza management turned to FAMCO to provide a solution. FAMCO proposed a system from Silent Knight, a part of the Honeywell Life Safety group and a provider of fire alarm solutions for small and mid-size institutions as well as commercial sites.At the heart of the Plaza’s new system was the IFP-1000VIP, an intelligent analog/addressable fire alarm control panel (VIP) combined with an integrated single channel voice evacuation system. Because the system is addressable, it allows the user to exactly pinpoint the location of a fire event, not simply the floor or zone.The VIP has built-in support for up to 1594 addressable devices. The VIP has six on-board Flexput™ circuits that can be configured for auxiliary power, notification outputs, or for conventional smoke detector inputs (Class A or Class B). The FACP also has a built-in, dual-line digital fire communicator, Form C trouble relay, and two programmable Form C relays.With all of the critical user interface controls at the main panel, operation and programming of the entire system is simple. The firmware has features such as detector sensitivity, day/night thresholds, drift compensation, pre-trouble maintenance alert, and calibration trouble alert. Three field programmable user messages are integral to the system’s evacuation capabilities. The speed of installation was a critical consideration for Damico, who needed to minimize the system downtime.“Like all of the Silent Knight panels, the IFP-1000 can utilize the existing wiring. No special shielded or twisted pair wiring is required,” said Scott. “Consequently, we were able to install the panel quickly, replace all the in-unit and hallway smoke detectors with addressable models, and interface the panel with the other existing devices to create a fully operational system in just two weeks. The system still needed work, but the Plaza at least had the same level of protection they had before their system broke down.“Actually, within just two days, we had the panel in, all the audibles working, and a pull station at the front desk. Because there is a security guard at the front desk 24/7, he could reach over, activate the pull station and quickly evacuate the whole building in case of a fire event.”Once this “patchwork” installation was behind them, Scott and his team of technicians undertook the full process in earnest. Near the end of September, his people began rewiring the entire building floor by floor to adapt it to the new system, which involved connection to the new ancillary devices and compliance with current building and fire codes. These ancillary devices included the addition of speakers in every unit. Unlike the old hallway horns, these speakers could be easily heard over any ambient noise within a unit, a fact that was established by performing a sound level (DBA) test in each unit.In addition, because the voice evacuation system allows for verbal messages, fire department personnel would be able to pick up the system microphone and provide tenants with specific instructions on what action to take: exit the building, go to the roof, avoid the stairs, etc.The Plaza is now connected to a central station, monitored and operated by FAMCO. This station uses the latest technology to provide 24-hour monitoring of the alarm system. Whenever the alarm detects an emergency condition, the FAMCO control station computers receive a coded signal, and all pertinent information is instantly displayed to one of their personnel. Within seconds, FAMCO notifies the staff of the Plaza, the fire, police and all responding parties. Damico said, “This equipment has provided complete coverage for the building, including all the common areas and every unit, thus providing peace of mind, knowing that in a time of emergency, communication can be made throughout the entire building.”Jeff Hendrickson is director of marketing for Silent Knight