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There have been challenges with completing fire safety maintenance and installation projects during the current Covid-19 crisis, most notably as a result of the difficulties for installers in safely accessing sites. Many construction projects halted for lockdown and this resulted in approximately 50% of the British installers we work with having to furlough staff. The challenges, however, are not just restricted to the UK. With Kentec panels sold in more than 90 countries across the world, we have seen varying challenges on a global scale. Throughout this crisis, fire safety continues to be paramount and as such key players, such as Kentec, are rightly considered essential businesses. We have continued manufacturing life safety systems throughout the current difficulties and it has been our mission to ensure that where new installations can take place, our panels are readily available to installers, as well as the expertise and technical support that goes with it for ongoing maintenance. Orders for spare parts have also, in fact, been consistently high during this period, as installers have been able to complete minor upgrades safely and end users have taken advantage of the period to do so. Adapting manufacturing processes to align with government guidelines so that customers have not experienced any supply issues with any life safety systems or parts has been a major success. Critical Infrastructure We’ve personally seen an increase in sales for our industry-leading Sigma XT extinguishant panels during this crisis as it is widely used within critical infrastructure, in sectors such as telecommunications, data centres and healthcare. Adapting manufacturing processes to align with government guidelines has been a major success During lockdown, with a vast proportion of the population working from home and relying on the internet to conduct their business and virtual meetings, it has been more important than ever that there is no loss in service in broadband and telephone services. This means that highly reliable and robust fire extinguishing systems are essential to protect essential workers and vital equipment – not only from the risk of fire, but also from the catastrophic damage that false alarms and the release of extinguishant could have, for example, on server room equipment. Understandably, this has resulted in considerable investment in fire systems in these sectors. Glasgow’s Louisa Jordan NHS Facility The recent fire safety installation at the Louisa Jordan NHS Facility Glasgow – located at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) which provides more than 500 COVID-19 beds – is just one example of essential fire safety work being completed during lockdown. Vipond Fire Protection Ltd installed a total of seven Sigma XT gas suppression panels, and 32 detectors located within the electrical room that serves the 10,000m2 facility. The project was completed in what was an extremely tight seven-day turnaround, delivering proven reliability within a crucial healthcare facility. Kentec's Experience Operating Through Covid-19 We have learned that operating through this crisis and supporting installations that are going ahead is best achieved through detailed planning, communication and collaboration. For example, we’re supporting our distributors by shipping directly to their customers, when it is not safe or feasible to open their warehouses. Operating through this crisis is best achieved through detailed planning, communication and collaboration Our own workforce is also adapting to changing work patterns and demands. In the factory, at a practical level, this has meant implementing new shifts schedules starting from six o’clock in the morning to ten o’clock at night to ensure there are never too many people on site at one time. We have staggered arrival, leaving and break times to mitigate any risks involved at entrances, and we were lucky that space allowed us to make the canteen area bigger and increase the number of toilets from three to ten. We have moved work benches to ensure a safe distance between each employee, and where workflows make two-metre distancing impossible we have installed six- and eight-foot screens. Face masks have been provided to all staff and we are also trialling face shields for further comfort and protection. Our office staff have worked from home, and where going to the office has been necessary, they have similarly adhered to staggered arrival times. Internal communication has been essential and I’m immensely proud and extremely thankful for the positivity, proactivity and support that employees have shown through this process. We have also adapted our Kentec Installation Partner (KIP) scheme to be fully remote to ensure training and support is there when it is needed for our installers. We are hosting webinars as another forum to solve installer queries remotely, and our new range of Taktis panels have highly advanced networking capabilities and a vast suite of communication tools that support remote monitoring. It is therefore critical that our installers fully understand how to help end users realise the benefits such panels can deliver and to ensure their installations are completed successfully. Looking Ahead To The New Normal Remote monitoring will become increasingly important beyond this crisis We feel that remote monitoring will become increasingly important beyond this crisis and the advanced communication capabilities of panels will be essential for both installers and end users alike. For installers it reduces the amount of time required on site, because they can access the system remotely to find out what equipment or parts they need to take with them. Similarly, for end users they can access systems remotely to check any alerts or queries off site if necessary. It remains to be seen how the rest of 2020 will pan out, but where projects have been necessarily put on hold, because of the essential nature of our industry we are confident that installers will be able to quickly and easily return to these projects when it is safe and feasible to do so. Communication, collaboration and support will continue to be essential in mitigating the challenges in our future ‘new normal.’
Fire safety in road or rail tunnels is critical in avoiding potentially disastrous incidents Roger Wilton, Assistant Technical Manager of the Fire Industry Association (FIA), explains the challenges of preventing underground fires. Fires in tunnels tend to make headline news, largely because of the potential loss of life that such an incident presents. At the turn of the new millennium three catastrophic fires in as many years ensured that tunnel protection became a real focus on the fire safety agenda. In 1999 the Mont Blanc tunnel fire, probably the most well known of the three, resulted in 39 deaths when a Belgian transport truck caught fire, resulting in temperatures of 1,000°C and taking some five days to cool sufficiently for crews to enter the tunnel to begin three years of repairs and significant enhancements of the safety equipment and procedures. This was followed in November 2000 by the Austrian Kaprun funicular tunnel fire which killed some 155 people as they headed for the pistes in a popular ski area some 350 kilometres to the west of Vienna. Then, in October 2001, the St Gotthard Tunnel in Switzerland, the third longest road tunnel in the world, saw two lorries collide to create a fire that killed eleven people. Tunnel fires have, of course, occurred before and since but three such major incidents in such a short timeframe highlighted very clearly the dangers of tunnel fires and the need to recognise the specific challenges that tunnels present in terms of fire safety engineering. When construction work is undertaken in an underground location, the project plan for safety and in particular fire safety needs to address the extra risks associated with work in an area that, by definition, will have limited means of escape. The area will inevitably be one in which ventilation will be restricted. Lighting will also be a prime consideration. Risk Assessment A comprehensive and dynamic fire risk assessment document is essential for creating a successful fire safety strategy Managing an emergency successfully is a matter of planning, having the correct equipment in place and employing an effective maintenance programme to ensure that the equipment works when required. The first essential is a risk assessment undertaken by a competent person. Particularly during the construction phase of a project, the risk assessment needs to be a dynamic working document that changes as the work progresses. The ownership and authorship of said document needs to be one of the project manager’s prime tasks. It should link to a project fire and safety strategy document that indicates how the risks identified are being managed and how the process for emergencies are to be handled. For example, if a risk from mechanical plant operating in the underground location is identified, the strategy may require that a mechanical plant containing volatile fuel or gas be fitted with an automatic fire suppression system and that during operation a specified number and type of portable fire extinguishers be available. The strategy document may also require that persons operating the equipment undertake specific training on the use of fire extinguishers. Fire risk and fire strategy are the tools of the trade for driving down financial loss and reducing project delay. A fire risk assessment follows a logical pattern Identify fire hazards Identify people particularly at risk Evaluate, remove, reduce and protect from risks Record, plan, instruct, inform and train Review the plan Specific fire risks in construction work underground are determined on each site. However, all such work will need to consider the following when producing a proposed fire strategy: Difficulties in providing means of escape. Enclosed environment ventilation issues. Access for emergency services. Whilst tunnels are constructed, fire hazards must be identified and correct fire safety measures taken During a construction project the first requirement of the risk assessment is to identify the fire hazards. This may be one of the most challenging problems as identifying what will burn and is potential ignition risk is linked to use and the experience of the user. The hazards will change as the construction progresses. The risk will increase as initial construction gives way to first and second fix. The materials used in construction are often delivered in flammable packing to prevent transit damage. A management process for safe storage and for efficient removal of packaging materials is required. The need for fire extinguishers suitable for Class A fires (those involving solid materials, such as paper wood or textiles) is apparent. The construction programme can be part of the risk control programme. For example, the completion of enclosed stair routes before other work proceeds can help address safe escape routes. Early provision of a ventilation system will assist in control of the environment to allow escape. Control of the area by a ‘permit to work’ system and a temporary fire alarm system can assist in the risk reduction process. All of the above underlines my assertion that the risk assessment needs to be a dynamic working document that changes as the work progresses. The fire protection of an area can be enhanced by using heat or smoke detection. The services that a tunnel normally carries can form part of the detection. For example, fibre optic cables can form the sensor for a linear heat detection system that can provide precise location information. As with many fire situations, providing warning at the earliest possible point is the goal and identifying the source of a fire is a significant factor in this process. CCTV systems can also provide a smoke detection output as well as supplying video information. From construction to use Once the construction phase is complete the elements of the operation of a tunnel need to be built into the equation. The risk and the fire load - that is the amount of combustible material in the area or passing through - need to be recognised and the fire protection measures employed accordingly. The requirement for fire fighting systems and the location of portable fire extinguishers will depend on the use to which the structure will be put. If personnel are normally located within a given area of the tunnel, the system to alert them to potential danger needs careful consideration. The variety and versatility of voice and message sounders is an important factor here, with voice-based messaging increasingly being used to provide a precise instruction for an evacuation that is not available from a purely tone-based sounder. Rising to the challenge Both Europe and the USA are conducting ongoing research into methods of more effectively reducing the threat of underground tunnel fires Tunnels provide their own unique fire safety challenges, whether during the construction phase or when the tunnel is actually in use. This article has only scratched the surface of what needs to be considered. Extensive research is ongoing, both in Europe and in the USA, to find methods of further reducing the threat of fire. This is not only in terms of fire prevention, testing the relative strengths and, importantly, the weaknesses of different fire detection technologies, but also in providing the means for safe evacuation to prevent the tragic loss of life which the three incidents highlighted at the outset demonstrate only too well. Roger Wilton - Assistant Technical Manager - Fire Industry Association (FIA)
Since 1971, Amerex has provided the highest quality fire protection products. Deep relationships with customers give the insight to innovate and provide end users with the solutions they need. Every extinguisher, no matter how well manufactured, is vulnerable to corrosive elements, such as salt air in coastal installations over a long period of time. These environments can cause significant structural damage to a regular fire extinguisher, impairing its functionality and potentially making its use hazardous to the operator. It’s the only unit on the market that’s been UL verified to withstand 12 years of simulated severe salt corrosion Corrosion Resistant Paint Amerex is pleased to introduce an exciting innovation to the High-Performance line — the new Z-Series featuring corrosion resistant paint that employs an advanced zinc rich primer. Z-Series meets the challenge presented by corrosive environments like those found on oil and gas platforms and in refineries, mines or waste management facilities. It’s Amerex’s most resilient unit yet, capable of withstanding harsh industrial environments where traditional extinguisher cylinder integrity could be compromised by corrosion, and it meets the standard set by Amerex’s High-Performance product line over 20 years ago. In fact, it’s the only unit on the market that’s been UL verified to withstand 12 years of simulated severe salt corrosion. Design, Testing And Implementation Our Research and Development team devoted thousands of hours to the design, testing and implementation of the new zinc rich paint process. Thanks to their exemplary work, the Z-Series line boasts: Best-in-class corrosion resistance and improved longevity. Improved environmental impact compared to galvanized units. Shorter lead times. Smoother finish than galvanized units. The highest achievable UL rating, comparable to our other High-Performance extinguishers. Severe corrosion tested in accordance with ISO 21207. The only UL verified extinguisher to withstand 12 years of simulated exposure to severely corrosive chloride ions, which are present in the salt air of marine environments, winter road de-icing salt and corrosive gases commonly produced from industrial or traffic air pollution. Choice of ABC, Regular and Purple K chemicals. Simple operation and maintenance. Compliance Flow or Fast Flow discharge available. A 15% price reduction from comparable High-Performance galvanized units. Harsh Industrial Settings We’re excited to provide this outstanding combination of features and value for our distributor partners to showcase to their customers. As the significant efforts made by our entire company to introduce this new product attest, Amerex is invested in providing the top solution on the market for harsh industrial settings.
Amerex team members Robert Fisher, Kaleigh Fleming and Stephani Riley are now Special Government Employees. The Special Government Employee (SGE) Program was established to allow industry employees to work alongside the Occupational Health and Safety administration (OSHA), particularly during Voluntary Protection Program site evaluations. This innovative program benefits OSHA by supplementing its on-site evaluation teams, and gives industry and government an opportunity to work together and share views and ideas. From time to time, SGEs may also have the opportunity to participate in other OSHA outreach and compliance assistance activities. Completing The Required Training Qualified volunteers from VPP sites, like Amerex, are eligible to participate in the SGE program. These volunteers must be approved by OSHA and funded by their companies to participate. After submitting an application and completing the required training, these volunteers are sworn in as SGEs and are approved to assist OSHA. The three Amerex team members recently completed the SGE course and were sworn in at the Region 4 VPPPA Conference in Chattanooga. They will serve a three year term and assist with onsite assessments, application reviews and annual self-evaluation reviews. Amerex became a VPP Star site in 2017. It’s the seventh and most recent VPP site in the McWane family of companies.
The National Association of Fire Equipment Distributors (NAFED) recently honored longtime Amerex team member and industry icon, Craig Voelkert, with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Craig exemplified this significant honor through his dedication to progressing the fire suppression industry. His commitment to innovation and industry engagement led to product advancements that are critical elements of life safety. In the early 1990s, Amerex founder Ned Paine discovered Craig at a Nevada fire school, where he was leading fire-training courses. Ned promptly offered him a position at Amerex. Craig’s responsibilities would include advancing key product innovations, engaging with technical committees and leading interactions with local and federal governments. Since accepting Ned’s offer, he successfully fulfilled these duties and accomplished much more before he retired at the end of 2018. Pre-Engineered Fire Systems Craig utilized his expertise and inventive personality to shepherd Amerex into new markets, such as pre-engineered fire systems for commercial restaurants and vehicles. In addition to his involvement with NAFED, Craig served as the Fire Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (FEMA) president and had various roles on National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) technical committees. Craig and his peers continuously pioneered new code and code improvements, which led to inventions like the K-Class Extinguishers for cooking operations. With his leadership and vision, Craig leaves a lasting legacy on Amerex and the fire suppression industry. Amerex thanks Craig, for his meaningful impact. Amerex and the entire industry appreciates his many contributions over the years.