Safety is one of the most important factors that engineers must consider when providing designs for any type of facility. One of the biggest safety hazards to prepare for is a fire. Encorus Group has a specific engineer on staff to create designs that will make buildings safer in the case of a fire. Fire Protection Engineer John Allan offers some insight on one of the most common forms of fire protection: fire alarms.

Fire detection and alarm system design starts with identifying the risk. This is typically done through an initial building / fire code evaluation based on occupancy, occupancy population, and hazards in the building. This gives us the baseline for determining what is required for the fire alarm system design.

Once the baseline is established, the client’s requirements must also come into play. For example, a fire alarm system for a VA Medical Center will have agency-specific engineering parameters that have to be met. As these requirements are identified, they become part of the design basis.

Once the design basis is established, the next step is to identify any special conditions in the building that could impact the performance of a fire alarm system. This helps to select the correct detection devices. In some cases, this can require a wide variety of detectors ranging from heat sensing devices to ultra violet and infrared detectors. Selecting the correct detectors is critical to the system’s performance and reducing false alarms.

Fire detection systems serve a critical life safety function. They are 24-hour sentinels that never sleep. When they do activate in response to fire conditions, they can initiate horns, bells, and strobe lights to alert the occupants and start the evacuation process from the building. They can also be interfaced to shut fire doors, shut down ventilation systems, and activate exhaust vents. Most importantly, they can notify emergency responders. More advanced systems use speakers and pre-recorded messages to direct the occupants on what to do.

Today’s modern buildings rely heavily on automated building controls, and fire alarm systems can become a significant part of the control system. In high hazard areas, they can be used to initiate fire alarm suppression systems and monitor other life impacting conditions. Although there are restricting conditions for this type of interface, a well-designed system can be a functional benefit to the operation of a facility. It can even be a life saver.

If you require fire protection engineering services, please contact Director of Engineering Design Tom Gilmartin, PE, at (716) 592-3980 ext. 124 or tgilmartin@encorus.com.