Fire detection and alarm systems are increasingly complex and sophisticated, benefiting from cutting-edge digital technology. As a fire alarm engineer installing, servicing and/or commissioning such technology, it can be hard to keep on top of your electrical skills and the latest regulations / local installation standards, let alone the many different panels’ features.

Any given day could see the typical fire engineer conducting a wide range of differing tasks – from diagnosing and remedying open/short circuits, earth or intermittent faults, to commissioning a new networked system in line with standards and project specification.

Standard logging versus trace-logging

At a site, one of the first things to do to troubleshoot the problem is refer to the fire panel’s log

Despite many fire engineers being highly trained, skilled and experienced, without the right tools at their disposal the process of undertaking these routine tasks can be challenging and time-consuming. Thankfully, the features of recent fire panels offer tangible benefits to engineers and end users alike, by delivering versatility, ease of use and time-saving capabilities that were previously unavailable.

Upon arriving at a site with a suspected system fault, one of the first things to do to troubleshoot the problem is refer to the fire panel’s log. In this state, a high-quality system can quickly flag any system faults – within seconds in some cases. Although useful, standard logging gives only one part of the picture and provides minimal help in cases where the cause of the problem is not straightforward.

modern fire panels

Trace-logging mode is a feature of some modern fire panels that lets users see a more complete log of a fire system’s events covering the standard fire, faults, alarms and pre alarms as well as more advanced diagnostic reports on corrupt data and device interrupts. This more detailed view of all the faults on a system can radically reduce the time it takes to establish the true cause of the problem, allowing one to implement a quick, effective remedy.

Another important factor to consider is how easy the panel’s menus are to navigate – and some interfaces prove easier to use than others. Advanced’s trace-logging mode has been developed with the engineer in mind. The need to navigate and decipher options from complicated menu structures has been removed. In addition, the data is delivered in easy-to-understand format to help minimise the risk of misinterpreting information and enabling one to diagnose problems with greater accuracy.

fire alarm control panel

Some fire systems can give the ability to transfer the panel’s event log to a PC where one can then use software

The process of fault-finding can be significantly more difficult when working with a fire alarm control panel that doesn’t feature a diagnostic logging mode. These panels may register a number of intermittent faults coming and going, but not necessarily offer any further traceability to these events. Commonly where a fire panel has a limited ability to trace a fault, issues within a system can go un-remedied for long periods of time, placing the safety of occupants within a building or a site at risk.

Some fire systems can give the ability to transfer the panel’s event log to a PC where one can then use software, such as the Service Tool on Advanced’s MxPro panels, to drill down into specific events and information. Integrated software allows one to easily identify particular devices that are returning corrupt messages, and even lets them predict when faults are likely to occur. Once a problematic device or area has been identified, one can then able to investigate.

installation And commissioning

An oscilloscope is a vital tool when commonly dealing with the installation, commissioning and maintenance of fire systems. A scope reading can help diagnose faults by identifying the areas of a site where problems are coming from. In cases where the work is done across large sites – such as university campuses, tall buildings or hospital settings – identifying disturbances on a loop can prove labour-intensive and time-consuming.

Carrying additional equipment through multiple departments, floors or wings of a development in order to set up at a different panel each time, makes the job of pinpointing faults more taxing. An oscilloscope, built in to the fire alarm control panel, will not only relieve the user of having to carry around additional equipment, but also provides a graphical representation of the signaling voltages/currents and waveforms on the display.

efficiently access information

The oscilloscope feature also lets one easily use trigger-addresses from the loop to identify issues and investigate

In this way, they get a detailed view of the loop operational conditions which can’t be seen using multimeters or volt meters.  As the only intelligent addressable fire alarm control panel in the world to offer an onboard oscilloscope, Advanced’s MxPro 5 provides readings from any loop at the panel, making it easy to identify forms of noise that may be causing faults.

The oscilloscope feature also lets one easily use trigger-addresses from the loop to identify issues and investigate – a particularly useful feature on large sites with multiple panel networks. A high-performance fire panel will provide one with powerful tools that enable them to quickly and efficiently access information in order to make key decisions. A multimeter is an instrument designed to take precise measurements of electric current, voltage and usually resistance across the system.

fire alarm system

On a well-designed system, all devices have the optimum voltage in order to be able to communicate back to the panel. However, if that voltage drops below a certain level, devices can drop off the system or report intermittent faults. Uniquely, Advanced’s MxPro 5 fire alarm control panels come with an in-built multimeter designed to measure all voltages and currents across the fire alarm system.

For engineers, a multimeter within the fire panel makes it easy to identify voltage/current levels in real time without needing to set up a portable multimeter or probing circuits, which speeds up the commissioning process. In large-scale sites, a network of fire panels is the most effective means of protecting life and property. Where a networked system is installed, the most common installation problems are open/short circuit conditions, reversals in wiring or poor termination. 

Network diagnostics

This knowledge in turn helps to ensure the long-term safety of occupants within a building

An effective network diagnostics tool, such as that within Advanced’s MxPro control panels allows one to view all CIE node status and access levels in real time. In levels 1 and 2 the CIE will be operating in normal condition, whereas in level 3 the CIE will be in commissioning. In this level the control panel will be isolated while work takes place, preventing fires and faults from being transmitted across the network.

In addition, the network diagnostic tool has been developed to identify reverse ring faults in systems that consist of one or more fiber optic links, something that is increasingly common across installations. What next for diagnostics? Understanding the tools and built-in features of the fire panel that effectively help fire engineers to install, commission, diagnose faults and repair a system can save significant time and money.

cloud communications

This knowledge in turn helps to ensure the long-term safety of occupants within a building. As technology evolves, and the fire panel continues to develop, Advanced predicts that the company will continue to see a trend towards more digitally-driven products and remote services. These will provide commissioning engineers and system integrators with a more global view of the systems they’re responsible for servicing and maintaining.

As the fire industry moves increasingly towards cloud communications and data analytics, the automatic generation of service reports, the remote control of panels and the ability to put zones in and out of test from a web / mobile app will likely become commonplace. These developments will see systems becoming smarter than they have ever seen before.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version

In case you missed it

Helping Voters Understand The Value Of Grant Programs To Fire Departments
Helping Voters Understand The Value Of Grant Programs To Fire Departments

Federal grants are a critical financial component of fire departments and the fulfillment of their mission to protect their communities. The Firefighters Support Alliance is an initiative to help voters understand the local economic impact that fire departments have on their communities; it is part of the Firefighters & EMS Fund, a national political organization. Federal programs such as Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants are crucial to emergency preparedness. AFG grants seek to enhance the safety of the public and firefighters with respect to fire-related hazards by providing direct financial assistance to fire departments, nonaffiliated Emergency Medical Services organizations and State Fire Training Academies. The funding helps to equip and train emergency personnel to recognized standards, enhance operations efficiencies, foster interoperability and support community resilience. Increasing the number of trained firefighters SAFER grants provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter organizations to help them increase the number of trained, "front line" firefighters available in their communities. Although often overlooked, the economics of firefighting – including what funding and resources are available to fire departments – is a significant aspect of making sure firefighters can effectively and safely do their jobs and protect their communities. Visitors to the web site can manipulate the map to show specific data by region or state, and the map itself is color-coded Part of the awareness initiative is an interactive map that tracks and breaks down data related to the economic impact of firefighters. Data includes the number of fire departments, firefighters and grant dollars in relation to each metric. For example, the state of New York's 2,297 departments received an average of $7512.10 per department, and $200.37 average grant dollars per firefighter. Map for the economic impact of firefighters Visitors to the web site can manipulate the map to show specific data by region or state, and the map itself is color-coded to provide easy understanding of the density of each state. “The data speaks for itself; the fire protection industry is a huge part of the American economy and disturbances to such a wide reaching and essential industry will be felt by all,” says Executive Director Nile Porter. “Rich or poor, we all rely on fire and EMS capabilities in one capacity or another.” The Firefighter’s Support Alliance is the direct grassroots public policy and political engagement arm of the Firefighters and EMS Fund. The project was formed to directly engage the public and voters about issues and solutions that impact America’s heroes. Improving the health and wellness of firefighters The alliance will accomplish this by supporting and sponsoring digital marketing and mass media campaigns using targeted messaging and shining a light on issues that provide grassroots-direct issue, political and public awareness. The Firefighter’s Support Alliance comes on the heels of the organization’s in-depth research from 2018-2019 that revealed a deepening health and wellness crisis among firefighters.

During The Pandemic, Technology Allows 911 Dispatchers To Work From Home
During The Pandemic, Technology Allows 911 Dispatchers To Work From Home

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend toward working from home has accelerated. New technologies are now making it possible for 911 dispatchers to work from home, too, whether to ensure social distancing or to supplement operations during evolving emergencies. The computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems offer web-based interfaces and mobile capabilities that enable public-safety answering point (PSAP) operators to work from anywhere. Other technologies that are paving the way for dispatchers to work from home include the cloud, virtual private networks (VPNs), and faster data speeds. Remote emergency dispatchers An innovative implementation in Alexandria, Virginia, involves remote emergency dispatchers using equipment including a laptop, headset, smartphone, mobile hotspot, mobile router with computer-aided dispatch and other hardware. The city uses the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) network, provided in partnership with AT&T. A dedicated, secure and reliable connection ensures operation for public safety, everyday functions, and/or for emergency communications. In Alexandria, hotspots and smartphones powered by FirstNet enable 911 dispatchers to take calls In Alexandria, hotspots and smartphones powered by FirstNet enable 911 dispatchers to take calls and handle CAD operations from their homes and remote locations. The dependability of the FirstNet connection is critical; relying on a dispatcher’s home Internet service could be risky if it loses connectivity. Initially hesitant because of concerns about the unknown, Alexandria’s Director of Emergency and Customer Communications was spurred into action by the COVID-19 crisis. Emergency Communications Centers They had tested the system in January. During the first month of implementation, remote workers only answered non-emergency phone calls before beginning to handle 911 calls. The approach helped with social distancing in the midst the COVID -19 crisis, during which dispatchers could not work together as usual in close quarters. To ensure social distancing, dispatchers worked from two different Emergency Communications Centers (ECCs) – one primary and one a backup location – in addition to some dispatchers working from home. There was also a fourth ‘isolation’ team, comprised of two fire dispatchers, two police dispatcher and one call telecommunicator – staying and working remotely in a nearby hotel for 10 days in a row. Deciding whether to allow dispatchers to work remotely depends on factors such as employee performance, operational effectiveness and available tools, according to experts. Careful evaluation of these factors ensures a successful implementation. Home-Based operators Technology requirements include a VPN and a dependable, high-speed internet connection In addition to providing flexibility during a global pandemic, remote dispatchers can help departments augment their regularly scheduled staff members more quickly. Dispatchers who can work immediately from home are not delayed by the practicalities of getting to work. Staffing can be augmented immediately rather than several hours from now – an essential consideration during a developing emergency. Technology requirements include a VPN and a dependable, high-speed internet connection. Connectivity might especially be a problem in rural areas, where operators are also more likely to need to travel a long distance to work. There might also be legal issues, such as access to confidential databases. There might also be concerns about discipline of home-based operators and challenges when it comes to working together cohesively as a team. In the end, though, such questions are about ‘how’ a home-bound dispatcher scenario might be managed rather than whether it is feasible. The changing situation during the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that the technical hurdles have been overcome.

Keeping Emergency Services Teams Secure And Connected
Keeping Emergency Services Teams Secure And Connected

Every day, across the globe, emergency services teams come to people’s aid no matter the situation to ensure their safety. Whether it’s during a natural disaster, or at a significant event, the emergency services are on hand to face any challenge that comes their way. When supporting this crucial workforce, it is essential that they have robust and reliable connectivity. Technology is becoming a vital aspect of public safety and security worldwide, and this trend is only likely to grow. For these new devices to work effectively, full-scale coverage must be in place, and when it comes to people’s safety, there is no room for error. The need for redundancy and high bandwidth  Two of the paramount tools at emergency services disposal are video surveillance and communication devices. Constant visibility and communication are often essential to protecting people and saving lives. The benefits range from providing first responders with a clear picture and understanding of the situation they are about to encounter; to providing greater safety during public events by enabling officers to control crowds and manage traffic effectively. Enhancing visibility and sharing information is particularly crucial during fires to guide firefighters and vehicles through flames and smoke, and to allow the central command center to organize resources effectively. Technology is becoming a vital aspect of public safety and security worldwide, and this trend is only likely to grow Despite any potential challenges ensuring network connectivity may create, public safety organizations cannot compromise when it comes to optimizing security. For IP video surveillance and cellphone broadband connectivity to operate effectively, they require redundancy and high bandwidth. Without these connectivity attributes, devices become useless; for example, there are municipalities where as much as 50 percent of the camera network is offline because of poor product choices and inferior network design and installation. Equally, poor quality networking can be just as limiting as it can lead to public safety organizations being unable to receive real-time data. All areas must also have adequate bandwidth to access data, such as on-scene video, aerial imagery, maps, and images, and many existing public safety networks do not have that capacity. Supporting security and safety robotics Robots and drones have seen a considerable increase in popularity this year, with 60 million such machines being deployed according to ABI Research. They offer a wealth of potential to emergency services teams, whether on land, air, or sea. For example, water rescue robots can go where humans cannot, earthquake and fire robots can search through otherwise non-navigable areas, and drones can survey vast regions. However, for these wireless devices to work effectively, they rely on many features. They need low power consumption so as not to heavily burden the onboard power source of the robotic device and, perhaps, a high level of encryption so information cannot be stolen or hacked. There are also benefits to security and safety as robotic devices can communicate with one another peer-to-peer. Directly mounting radios to robots and drones, fosters dynamic self-learning, data sharing, and more wireless paths in the event one or more of the devices in an area do not have a link to fixed infrastructure. Water rescue robots can go where humans cannot, earthquake and fire robots can search through otherwise non-navigable areas, and drones can survey vast regions The main component that security and safety robotics require is redundant and resilient connections. If the connection is lost, the connected device will go into “safe” mode and stop. Creating a high capacity network that supports mobile devices in complex and fast-moving environments is not a simple task. In many cases, it requires a network that supports many wireless connections and allows for many paths in and out, so that if a link is lost, another path is available for data transmission and reception. This type of network is the best way to ensure that police, firefighters, and emergency units can access and send large amounts of data from wherever they are and in real-time making a massive difference to the efficiency of the emergency services. An example of this is Rajant’s private Kinetic Mesh® network, a wireless network ensuring no single point of failure. It offers reliable, intelligent, and secure wireless broadband connectivity that survives and thrives in evolving and mobility-driven environments. It forms a “living” mesh network that can move with and adapt to the evolving communication requirements of public safety organizations. Technology in action Back 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 overly dry, desert hills. Despite four hundred and twenty acres being burnt, firefighters used their experience and skills combined with newfound digital technology to ensure that no structures were damaged, and there were no reported injuries. The Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Cal Fire, the U.S Forest Service, and other agencies were immediately dispatched to contain the fire. More than 200 firefighters were needed to combat the fire and reinforce containment lines with helicopters and drones in the air and bulldozers on the ground. To operate this equipment, mesh radio nodes, bonded cellular, and satellite technologies were used to link the communication gap in locations where signals are often dropped. Rajant BreadCrumb® nodes were mounted to the fire-breaking, 30-ton bulldozers manned by trained firefighters to uproot vegetation and eliminate the materials that would further spread the fire. Robots and drones have seen a considerable increase in popularity this year, with 60 million such machines being deployed  The reliable connectivity allowed the bulldozers to not only easily communicate with each other and the base, but also to send video footage and data to the tactical truck and central command post over cellular and SAT networks. This situational awareness data transfer allowed for greater efficiency, as well as increased safety for the public and the firefighters. Reliability when you need it most Reliable connectivity solutions are being embraced across the emergency services due to the innumerable benefits they bring to ensuring the safety of the public. For police, firefighters, and emergency units, dependable connectivity allows for rapid, real-time response, and the use of technology can save lives in ways that wouldn’t have seemed possible a decade ago. Planned and unplanned events can benefit from the new technology being introduced, and emergency services need to make sure they have the network capabilities to support them. For environments that are challenging and hostile, this requires a network available on-demand, which can withstand the demands of harsh conditions and mobility while maintaining a level of redundancy and high bandwidth that allows for accessing and sending large amounts of data from any location.

vfd