Building engineers and building owners have many statutory responsibilities. Protecting people within a building from the risk of fire goes beyond a legal requirement though; it is also a serious duty of care issue for all involved. When it comes to upgrading an existing system, or specifying for a new building, wire-free technologies represent the very latest in accurate protection, not to mention easing the involvement and cost for the building engineer. Ray Puttock from EMS Radio Fire & Security explains how a wire-free fire detection and protection system works and what the benefits are for those addressing this need.
All fire systems in the UK must meet certain legal standards. BS5839-1, the UK’s engineering code, is key and without this any system will be deemed non-compliant. For the engineer responsible for an older building the incidence of false alarms is probably all too common. As existing and older systems age further they become less reliable. Sensitivity to smoke and temperature and the reliability of cabling all compound and could result in a faulty system that requires more than just routine service maintenance. Costly ad-hoc call-outs soon add up and in time it makes financial sense to replace and upgrade the system.
Wireless solutions have made their mark as the front-runners when it comes to reliability in fire detection and protection. In fact, for the engineer their use simplifies matters no end, while for the person responsible for showing a return on capital expenditure, the cost savings in materials and labour make sense too.
Smart Cluster Technology lies behind the ingenious wire free approach to fire detection. This technology links over 500 industry standard sensors to create up to 64 radio clusters, providing totally wireless building protection. Each panel and radio hub can manage up to 64 RCCs. These can each link to 31 devices across a building, so the result is a system that can monitor in excess of 500 devices.
With no cables, the cost of system installation is dramatically reduced, with no sensitivity in price fluctuations for cabling either. No cables are necessary and so installation is quicker and less disruptive too – so there is no need for office decant during works, while for schools, hospitals and even social housing, the fire engineer can simply fit the sensors and leave – minimal noise, dust and mess and less time involved.
In fact, with no service runs to drill there is a huge benefit for older and historic or listed buildings too. For example, churches, museums and stone or timber structures (where traditional building materials and time-honoured construction methods must be preserved) can benefit from the more non-invasive installation approach.
The frequency used is 868mhz. Diversity reception, multi path techniques and the use of multiple frequencies means that maximum coverage is achieved. Meanwhile there is no risk of the system being compromised through radio interference because the system can automatically change between frequencies as required.
Instead of electricity via cabling, the sensors and hub receive their power via standard alkaline batteries, which are easily replaceable every five years. This means the service costs are far less for a wireless system, removing the headache for the building’s site manager or engineer. If a wire-free approach appears the most feasible for the application in hand, it is important to ensure that the system is fully CE marked, such as the FireCell from EMS Radio Fire & Security. This will demonstrate its compliance with EN 54 part 25 – the European legislation that covers the standards for bi-directional radio controlled systems.
Making the move from a wired system to one that relies on radio frequency is a big step for many organisations. However, for the building service engineer working in tandem with a specialist fire system company, there is minimum effort or trouble involved. This is because the system provider can carry out a full audit of the site to ascertain the best system design. Expertise from a specialist can also be invaluable when it comes to multiple sites – for example, where several buildings across university or hospital campuses need to be protected and all brought in line with a single fire detection and protection policy. This has traditionally been challenging, with the result being that individual buildings have their own, silo systems with no integration aside from that manually provided by the Site Fire Officer or Buildings Services Manager. Where there is some level of integration this is usually only achieved at large expense and maximum disruption: landscaping and infrastructure such as pathways and roads need to be dug up in order to lay the necessary cabling. Couple this with the planning, risk assessment, surveillance and remedial works involved too and the cost rockets.
Wireless removes the problem. Now a wireless local area network (LAN) can be set up with the help of a system provider that can be programmed exactly to meet the needs of the building engineer’s fire protection policy, creating one comprehensive and fully addressable system that achieves the same high level of protection across all buildings within a single estate. Using the FireCell system as part of a LAN enables up to eight systems, with a total of 4,096 devices, to be linked wirelessly across buildings and estates.
The network operates through the use of RCNs or radio network communicators and network PCBs which can be programmed to meet an individual fire plan. All information is transmitted across the network to either a master location specified by the building engineer, or to all panels, depending on the requirements of the fire plan. In addition, for complex signalling and evacuation plans, customers are able to configure ‘cause and effect’ programming. All this is possible without the need for cabling thanks to the sophistication and reliability of radio controls.
Fire protection and detection is a legal requirement – when the time comes to address a current system and look to replace it with a modern, fully compliant one, it is worth consulting with a specialist system provider that can deliver valuable input into the viability, cost and return on investment that going wire-free affords. Whilst a radio controlled system is a massive departure from more traditional wired fire system solutions, the benefits for the building engineer mean it is a reassuring alternative to seriously consider.