Download PDF version

In May 2021, sparks in a ventilator ignited a deadly blaze in the intensive care unit of a COVID-19 treatment building at an Indian hospital. Investigations into the incident later revealed a variety of gaps in the building’s fire protection measures.

While incidents of this severity are thankfully relatively rare, this tragic example serves to remind us of the particular risks associated with healthcare settings. The presence of countless fire hazards, the difficulties of effectively maintaining fire protection across large and complex sites, combined with a high density of people – many of whom are very vulnerable – all serve to underline how easily a fire can bring essential services to a standstill, put lives at risk, and at worst lead to needless loss of life.

The standard of fire safety in healthcare facilities is directly related to the quality and effective implementation of the fire risk assessment as well as the adequate provision of physical fire protection. At the core of many of these physical fire protection measures is the fire alarm control panel, with the most sophisticated of these capable of addressing the day-to-day challenges encountered by hospitals, clinics, care homes, and their staff.

Immediate and Uninterrupted Notification of Alarm

Networked fire systems can be relied upon to control evacuation procedures from a central or various locations Hospitals are complex, often combining old and new buildings and spanning tens of thousands of square meters, with numerous departments such as A&E, critical care, specialist treatment centers, operating theatres, and wards. In these settings, networked fire systems deliver the greatest benefits.

Networked fire systems can be relied upon to control evacuation procedures from a central location or various locations, and can be programmed to effectively reduce the number of false alarms. They work with third-party systems to control the release of suppressants, operate smoke control systems, manage the closure and release of fire doors, link to graphical control systems, and interact with building management systems (BMS).

To do all of this effectively, the fire panels installed on these sites must communicate instantaneously with one another across vast networks, with miles of cabling. These systems need to work quickly and reliably and process large numbers of changing signals in the event of a real fire situation. On larger healthcare sites, seconds count and fast systems are highly valuable in maximizing the time for verification, escape and firefighting.

MxPro 5 and Axis EN

The MxPro 5 and Axis EN ranges of fire alarm control panels from global fire systems manufacturer Advanced offer some of the industry’s most comprehensive and state-of-the-art networking capabilities.

Advanced networks can be configured to allow the inter-connection of up to 200 panels (nodes) in a fault-tolerant configuration, relaying fire alarm signals across a complete 200-panel system in just 3.5 seconds. Using EN54-13 approved panels gives peace of mind that the system is designed and tested to continuously monitor network activity and ensure each panel performs in a fire situation.

Practical Solutions for Sensitive Notification of Alarm

Nurse Workstations

In critical care areas such as intensive care units, patients are often immobile and likely to be connected to medical equipment. In a fire scenario, staff responsible for high-dependency patients need to be able to monitor the situation as it evolves, without causing panic and distress for those in their care. For this reason, sounders and speakers aren’t always required, and instead, fire system repeater panels can be used.

Advanced offers four types of remote terminals to complement its fire panels

Repeater panels, located in strategic locations such as nurse workstations, provide early notification of any fire detection events as well as system monitoring. Discreet and early notification affords staff time to prepare, and up-to-the-minute system status information enables them to make educated decisions on when it’s best to remain in place, shelter or evacuate.

Advanced offers four types of remote terminals to complement its fire panels, each providing varying levels of control and functionality depending on requirements.  TouchControl is a low-profile, high-resolution 10-inch touchscreen that lets users check the status of the fire system using interactive site maps and zone plans.

Ideal for use in public areas such as wards and hospital wings thanks to its low-profile design, the panel complements a wide range of interiors and has the added benefit of being able to display notices and presentations when in standby mode. The screen instantly reverts to fire operation as soon as it is touched, or a fire condition occurs.

Staff Paging and Deaf Alert

Advanced is witnessing increasing demand from healthcare premises for discreet methods of alerting staff to fire alarm communications, particularly when they are working in areas with vulnerable patients.

A radio-based messaging pager can be used to both subtly alert staff, without causing panic to patients, and to provide notification to the hard of hearing to the need to evacuate in emergency situations. This is particularly important for healthcare facilities that are required to meet legal obligations pertaining to disabilities. For example, in the UK, premises are required to ensure that they are Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliant.

LifeLine is Advanced’s three-in-one ESPA pager unit that delivers deaf and hearing-impaired alerts, detailed fire paging for engineers as well as instant staff paging. LifeLine provides clear and instant transmission of fire alarm alerts, information and emergency communications via personal pagers, it can be integrated into the fire system and is designed for compliance with BS 5839-1 section 18.

Flashing Beacons and Strobes

Flashing beacons or strobes provide another valuable way of discreetly notifying healthcare staff of a fire situation Flashing beacons or strobes provide another valuable way of discreetly notifying healthcare staff of a fire situation in cases where an audible alarm may cause issues. These visual warning devices are intended for use as part of the fire alarm system, but it is important to remember to choose those that have been independently certified to meet the requirements of the EN 54-23 product standard.

Although full consideration must be given to any patients and staff who may be photo-sensitive or adversely affected by flashing lights, beacons and strobes can deliver an effective warning of a fire emergency.

False Alarm Management

False and unwanted fire alarms are one of the biggest issues in fire safety and building management today. They do not only leave occupants confused and troubled but can also lead to complacency and a failure to take proper action if/when a real fire occurs. They are also increasingly subject to penalty charges from fire and rescue services across the globe.

A high-performance fire system should offer the flexibility to accommodate the various evacuation strategies required in healthcare settings. False Alarm Management (FAM) generally uses detection methods and human verification of alarms to help reduce the incidence of false alarms. For example, algorithms in detection heads can increasingly differentiate between false signals such as steam or burning toast and actual fires.

Panels can also allow detectors to work smarter, using double knock (operation of two detectors) or coincidence (both combined smoke and heat detection elements operating) to confirm a fire. The system can respond differently to heat and smoke (with multi-sensors) and for programmable detector sensitivities.

Alarm verification times and investigation delays can be programmed to operate at different times of day, allowing strategies to be configured relevant to the level of staff on duty or if the usage of an area changes. Systems can also include dedicated input devices that are manually operated when a false alarm is suspected to allow trained staff to extend an investigation period so that a local alarm signal can be verified before escalating.

Advanced has published AlarmCalm – Complete False Alarm Management highlighting solutions for care homes

To highlight some of the solutions to the challenges faced in care homes, Advanced has published AlarmCalm – Complete False Alarm Management for care homes. The document outlines the features of Advanced’s AlarmCalm false alarm management solution and its key components, as well as providing an overview of the areas within care homes where different false alarm strategies may be required, based on risk, building design, and resident needs.

Integration with Third-Party Systems

A high-performance fire system, capable of interfacing with third-party BMS, smoke damper control, sprinkler monitoring, or HVAC systems, offers the user a host of advantages. By consolidating data from HVAC, energy, security, CCTV, and life safety applications onto one system, the user gains facility-wide insight from a single workstation – benefiting from improved reporting, information management, and decision making.

Against a backdrop of increasing pressures to drive down costs amongst healthcare operators without compromising protection, operational efficiencies can be gained through the integration of the fire system and BMS, thanks to the reduced requirement for additional staffing, simplified training, and fewer false alarms.

BMS Interface

Advanced’s BMS interface allows any MxPro 5 or Axis EN system to interconnect and communicate with independent third-party building management systems, as well as PC-based graphical control systems. This allows the fire system to be managed using existing fire or facilities management systems.

In larger sites, such as hospitals, multiple BMS interfaces can be connected to an AdNet network allowing independent connections to a wide range of control systems.

keeping healthcare premises compliant

The fire protection requirements for healthcare premises are wide-ranging. They require meticulous planning and customization to accommodate an array of building uses, staff, and patient needs. Ensuring that the systems installed are completely reliable and fully functioning at all times has to be given the highest priority in these critical settings.

Advanced continues to gather feedback from its many healthcare customers and innovates accordingly to help simplify the complex task of keeping healthcare premises compliant and their occupants safe from fire.

Download PDF version Download PDF version

In case you missed it

Teledyne’s Handheld Laser Detects Explosive Methane From 100 Feet Away
Teledyne’s Handheld Laser Detects Explosive Methane From 100 Feet Away

A new handheld device can detect the presence of explosive methane gas from up to 100 feet away. For firefighters, the tool provides situational awareness, saves time, and ensures safety from a distance. Knowing the presence of methane gas enables a firefighter to deal with an emergency gas leak and to avoid a deadly explosion. Gas laser The Gas Laser from Teledyne Gas and Flame Detection can shoot a laser beam through a window, a gap in a door, or another common venting point to provide an instant reading of the amount of methane in an area up to 100 feet away. The laser is invisible, but a green-spot pointer guides the aim as a user “points and shoots.” The laser bounces off any reflective object and then analyses the parts per million (ppm) of methane gas per meter of distance along the path of the laser. It measures down to a threshold of 1.25 ppm/meter. The handheld device can also capture a video image and a GPS location in addition to the gas reading stored on the device. It can be connected via WiFi and/or Bluetooth to a smartphone or other device and has onboard data logging. The device is automatically calibrated and tested when it is returned to its case. Detects minute quantities of methane Gas laser detects a much smaller amount of methane than would be explosive, thus preventing explosions  “It’s a brand new device, and everybody wants it,” says Alan Skinner, Regional Manager, Portable Gas Detection for Teledyne Gas and Flame Detection. “Once they understand what it does, they want it. Now you don’t have to be inside a hazard to detect the hazard.” The Gas Laser detects a much smaller amount of methane than would be explosive, thus preventing explosions by addressing leaks early.  The lower explosive limit (LEL) for methane is 5 percent, the equivalent of 50,000 ppm, much higher than the measurement threshold of the Gas Laser. Previously, there was no entirely safe method of evaluating the gas concentration without being near an area, typically using a three-foot probe sensor, for example.  “Now they know what they are getting into before they enter,” says Skinner. “It saves a huge amount of time.” Understanding working of gas laser Getting the word out about the device has been a challenge given the continuing coronavirus pandemic and disruptions of the hurricane season. “It’s one of those products you have to show them and let them play with it to understand what it does,” says Skinner. Interest was high at the recent FDIC show, where Teledyne unveiled the new sensor alongside its broader range of gas detection sensors. Teledyne’s range of portable sensors traces its roots back to GM Instruments (GMI), founded in Scotland in 1947. The sensor company was involved in multiple mergers and acquisitions in recent years, including ownership by companies such as Battery Ventures, Tyco, Scott Instruments, Johnson Controls, and 3M. Two years ago, the product line was acquired by Teledyne and represents the portables segment of their Environmental Monitoring Division, which also includes Detcon, Simtronics, and Oldham. Protege ZM and PS200 sensor PS200 sensor measures levels of four gases – methane, oxygen, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen sulfide Another sensor among Teledyne’s range of handheld devices is the Protégé ZM, a carbon monoxide sensor that a fireman can clip to their helmet, pocket, or bag. The “disposable” device has a 24-month lifespan, requires zero maintenance, and provides a calibration and bump test. The PS200 sensor measures levels of four gases – methane, oxygen, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen sulfide. An internal pump extracts a sample before a firefighter enters a confined space. A charge, bump, and calibration station (ABC Station) ensures calibration on a weekly, monthly, or twice-yearly basis. PS500 and GT Fire sensor The PS500 model adds another sensor to the four – typically either a photoionization detector (PID) for volatile organic compounds such as benzene, or a hydrogen cyanide (HCN) sensor to measure the presence of carcinogenic compounds that can be a byproduct of burning vinyl or plastics. The PID sensor can help investigators detect propellants that might indicate arson. The GT Fire sensor detects explosive gases in the PPM/LEL ranges with optional CO, H2S, and O2 sensors. The device can sniff out small gas leaks before any LEL level is reached. Able to find leaks in the PPM range, the device can pinpoint exactly where gas is leaking.

Revising The Rules Of Evacuation
Revising The Rules Of Evacuation

It is the legal duty of the responsible person in any building to make the evacuation of disabled people equal to that for able-bodied people, as Anthony Smith, Managing Director of Vox Ignis, explains. When the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was first introduced in 1995, it gave disabled people long overdue access to goods and services, education, employment, transport and accommodation. This was, subsequently, incorporated into the Equality Act in 2010. Evacuation of mobility impaired people Sadly, despite its many benefits in access to goods and services, one area the act failed to address was the evacuation of mobility impaired people, in the event of an incident, leading to the Government and Disability Rights Commission to publish a guide of supplementary information for the fire risk assessment for Disabled People in 2007. The guide highlighted that the Fire and Rescue Service’s role in fire evacuation is that of ensuring that the means of escape, in case of fire and associated fire safety measures provided for all people, who may be in a building, are both adequate and reasonable, taking into account the circumstances of each particular case. Fire risk assessment of buildings It is the responsibility of the person(s) having the responsibility for the building, to provide a fire safety risk assessment Under current fire safety legislation, it is the responsibility of the person(s) having the responsibility for the building, to provide a fire safety risk assessment that includes an emergency evacuation plan for all people likely to be in the premises, including disabled people and how that plan will be implemented. As a member of BSI FSH/12/5, which covers Voice Alarm and Emergency Voice Communication Systems, and as Managing Director of Vox Ignis, a manufacturer of disabled refuge and fire telephone systems, Anthony Smith has long lobbied for the amending of BS9991 and Building regulations approved document B1, to make it compulsory for dwellings above one floor to have disabled refuge areas, with an Emergency Voice Communications System (EVCS), as commercial buildings, ensuring residents can communicate with building management, in the event of an incident, such as fire. As a member of BSI FSH/12/5, Anthony Smith has long lobbied for the amending of BS9991 Clear and secure communications vital in emergencies In such emergencies, it is vital that communication is clear, secure, monitored and maintained. These systems can be the difference between life and death. In the wake of the Grenfell disaster, many in the industry, including Anthony Smith, believed it would only be a matter of time until such critical amends were made. However, four years on, it looks as though the industry, fire services and general public may finally be seeing their persistent rallying result in action, transforming this outdated mandate. Importance of refuge areas in buildings Lifts, escalators and platform lifts may have transformed the way that people with mobility issues access buildings While responsible building owners and there are some out there, are already establishing refuge areas in dwelling houses, the revision of BS9991 in the next year, could finally spell the end of such crucial health and safety measures being optional, and make it a requirement for residential buildings, but it will take a change to the Building Regulations Approved Document B1 to change the law. Lifts, escalators and platform lifts may have transformed the way that people with mobility issues access buildings. However, more often than not, they are completely redundant in an emergency, which is why refuge areas hold the key to ensuring the safe and orderly evacuation of people from buildings, in the event of a crisis. Key role in promoting disabled refuge areas Here at Vox Ignis, we’ve witnessed this first hand. Working with property developers across the globe, we’ve helped establish disabled refuge areas, in a wide range of developments, from skyscrapers to hotels and high-rise residential towers, and are starting to be involved in projects in this country with residential towers, notably in Croydon. Although, in both of those instances, the client wasn’t bound by law to include EVCS for the disabled refuge areas in their developments, it goes to show that many forward-thinking and responsible developers are already embracing the latest in evacuation and fire safety technology, however, as an industry and as a nation, we can ill afford to rest on our laurels. Of the 72 people who died in the tragic Grenfell fire disaster, more than half of the casualties were adults with limited mobility or children, according to evidence shared in the latest phase of the inquiry, and we can only hope that, if the proposed revisions to BS9991 are approved, and Approved Document B1 is amended, we can finally put the relevant measures in place, in order to make high-rise residential buildings safer for all, once and for all.

Keeping Fire Personnel Connected And Safe Using Wireless Mesh Networks
Keeping Fire Personnel Connected And Safe Using Wireless Mesh Networks

In their daily lives, fire personnel must be brave, forward-thinking, and strategic when tackling fire emergencies. However, the most crucial part of a successful fire operation is the communication between the crew, the central command center, and the people in need of rescue when in mission-critical, and often life-threatening situations. Whether this location is a large-scale wildfire, a high-rise building or even a house, continuous connectivity can be the mitigating factor on success or failure when it comes to ushering people to safety. It was estimated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) that US fire crews respond to a fire situation every 24 seconds across the nation. Still the number of fire-related fatalities has dropped significantly when compared to figures from the 1970s. Of course, this is due to the more robust communications systems and high-quality fire equipment available today, but all of this relies on stable and fail-proof connectivity. Unwavering connectivity can prevent fatalities If fire personnel are to provide an effective and real-time response to any fire safety emergency, they require constant visibility and communication at all times. Any operation interruption, faltering connection, or unreliability can cause panic, uncertainty, and even danger. Furthermore, a robust, mobile connection allows for direct correspondence to control rooms, which can facilitate additional equipment, vehicle, and team members to be deployed. An unreliable connection presents hurdles to fire personnel as it restricts access to vital information and applications, which will inevitably hold firefighter crews back from receiving real-time data that is essential in critical situations. Most importantly, new technology is emerging, aiming to minimize firefighter danger and increase the overall visibility of sites. The more powerful the applications are, the more bandwidth is required to support them. If a network has insufficient bandwidth capacity, real-time access to files, such as on-scene video, critical communications, and aerial imagery, may not be possible. In addition, on-the-move visibility is essential in providing firefighters with the inclusive situational awareness they require when dealing with a range of life-threatening incidents, whether this be sprawling wildfires, vehicle accidents, or domestic fire situations. The wireless mesh that enables critical communication Rajant Corporation has worked with many emergency personnel and equipment providers in helping them communicate reliably with its Kinetic Mesh® wireless network. Comprised of multi-frequency network nodes that solidify the connection, the network allows for complete mobility and range, enabling fire crews to communicate wherever they are without the threat of interrupted connection. It is paramount with any public safety operation that a wireless mesh is fast in transmitting real-time data and completely secure from any cybersecurity threat. In addition to providing complete mobility, the network can support innovative equipment and wearable technology that can significantly increase safety and security in mission-critical situations. An example of this is Rajant’s partnership with communications provider Vorbeck. Equipped with Rajant’s ES1 BreadCrumb® wireless radio, the wearable Vorbeck HD4 communications harness facilitates live streaming of video, voice, and data to personnel in ‘hot zones’, these being hard-to-network areas or places with no network infrastructure. As the network can work peer-to-peer with all other Rajant BreadCrumb nodes, this extends the range of connection tenfold, keeping personnel safe and protected as they undertake their life-saving duties. It is paramount with any public safety operation that a wireless mesh is fast in transmitting real-time data and completely secure from any cybersecurity threat. In life-threatening situations that fire personnel may face, communications need to be received without the risk of interference or latency. Rajant BreadCrumbs can be configured with multiple radio transceivers and radio frequencies, including 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, 4.9 GHz, and 5 GHz with low-power consumption. Multi-frequency capabilities help avoid interruption, increase speed, and allow an array of applications to run simultaneously. Ensuring comprehensive connectivity when fighting the California wildfire In October 2019, the heat from the sun combined with winds gusting through the foothills of El Capitán Canyon in California sparked a bush fire in the desert. During the blaze, the climate in the Canyon was considered “critical fire weather” with its dry grass and wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour. Emergency services and crews from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, California Fire, the U.S Forest Service, and other agencies were immediately dispatched to contain the blaze before it spread. Rajant and its technology partner Dejero were enrolled after a planned public safety demonstration locally. Both companies quickly shifted to an urgent, real-life challenge. Following this, Rajant’s BreadCrumbs and camera systems were mounted to bulldozers enabling critical local data transmission, while other situational data and mapping could be revived in the field. From a tactical response truck, Dejero was able to bridge from the field to the command post over cellular and SAT networks, during the actual emergency situation. Significantly, this allowed the firefighters manning the bulldozers to communicate in the valley, which normally is not possible. Data was then sent from the bulldozers, straight to the truck, and transmitted via the Internet connection, whereby the command control center could receive the video feed in real-time. With Rajant and Dejero providing the connectivity needed, the operation was a success. While four hundred and twenty acres of land had burned, no structures were damaged, and, most importantly, no one was injured. By utilizing a Kinetic Mesh network, fire personnel ensure the safety of their teams. Whether they’re fighting a blaze in a house, a high-rise building, or in a vehicle, a fully mobile, rapidly deployable, and redundant wireless connection allows firefighters to fully focus on saving lives.