Failure to Detect a Fire: Minimum Requirements & Performance Design (Video)

Posted by Lee Kaiser on Mar 14, 2017 6:33:00 AM

When constructing a building, or inspecting it to ensure it is up to code, the International Building Code (IBC) outlines the minimum amount of fire protection needed. The NFPA allows you to exceed these minimum requirements. Every location has different needs and objectives, therefore system performance goals should be determined by stakeholders on a location-by-location basis. Watch the video below as fire protection expert Lee Kaiser discusses the IBC, how it applies to your facility, and some of the different options available.


Video Transcript

Lee: "We're gonna talk about this concept of what's the minimum versus what do I really require? And so where do I determine the minimum level of protection that's required? Well I turn to the building codes. In this case, the 2012 International Building Code. I look to the way the building code is arranged and it gives me requirements by occupancy type. For whatever building I'm building, it'll tell me the minimum level of fire protection systems that I have to have within my building. And that can range from no detection at all to manual initiation via pull station. I like to say human detectors.

The most accurate fire detector out there is a human because we either see a fire, smell smoke, or hear people running out of the building from a fire. Automatic detection via the sprinkler system. I talked about the flow switch. That's probably the most common way that a lot of commercial buildings actually detect a fire. As a fire grows in a room, breaks a sprinkler head open, and then water goes through the pipes to the flow switch and that's how we initiate a detection into the fire alarm panel. Or automatic detection via detectors could be heat, smoke, or flame. We'll talk about where those could go or some combination of this in different areas of the building.

System Performance Goals

Exceeding the minimum requirements of code is allowed and we like to think of that concept as setting the system performance goals. This concept is taught by the NFPA and we want to echo that. Where we get the system or the stakeholders for the building together, including the owner, and we talk about the type of system that this building needs and we set the performance goals.

We'll document that for detection. Do I want detection throughout the building? Do I want any at all? If I have it, full detection is one option where I have detectors in every space. Partial detection is where I just have detectors in certain areas, such as office buildings. You may see we choose not to put detectors in private offices, but we'll put them in the corridor and in the open office spaces.

That's kind of what this building has here that we're in today, except we also have them in common rooms like these training rooms. We've got options as far as types of detectors. And then how fast do I want to be able to detect a fire and what size. I can use some technologies like air sampling smoke detection. We'll talk about that. To get to smaller fires and detect them faster.

Notification Options

On the notification piece of fire alarm systems, we've got some options. Normally though, if we've got a fire alarm system at all, we're gonna have to do detection or notification throughout the building. In every occupied space. There we have options as to what type of notification.

Do we just do normal horn strobes? Or do we go and do a voice notification system where we add voice messages to enhance the warning to the people to evacuate the building? I can also choose where I put enunciators, additional inputs into the fire alarm panel in a building, as well as another thing that we don't often talk about; survivability.

This comes into play in really large buildings, either high rises or very spread out buildings where we know it's going to take a while for people to evacuate because of the size of the building. The fire could burn for a while before the fire department can get to it. We need the circuits in the system to survive for a while.

I can specify maybe all the main circuits for the system to be in 2-hour chases. There, the fire alarm code has information about survivability and what we need to do. We can specify survivability, if we wish, as far as some of the system performance goals.

Case Study

This case study is about a small fire. We had this happen this year in a data center. Not real big, they had a center. We had a small fire inside of a power distribution unit on one of the IT racks. A power distribution unit is a 5-foot long power strip on steroids. Kind of the easy way to describe it.

This is a picture of the fire. Just a very small fire inside of it. A small smoke event. There were air-sampling detectors or an air-sampling detector installed for the room. We had sampling ports on the ceiling. The ceiling was about 15 feet high. The smoke event happened, but we didn't know about it. The air handling in the room was a recirculating air handling system and the smoke never got up to the ceiling. The smoke went along with the air back to the intake to the air handling unit, was scrubbed out by the filters, and then we never really saw the event. 

How the owner found out about it was all of a sudden this piece of software stopped working. He then went in and started to put two and two together. Found that this whole PD was down and all the servers connected to it was down. They had a fire. So we get a phone call, ringy dingy, like you would. 'Why didn't our system work?' Well, ultimately the solution was they had an expectation beyond what was installed.

There was a fix to it. We can take a separate pipe from the air sampling smoke detector and add it to the return on the air handling unit for that room so we could capture smoke there, as well as at the ceiling. It was an issue of the system performance goal wasn't understood and the system performance goal was revealed after they had a fire. We encourage you to do that when you're designing new buildings on the front end so that everybody knows what your expectation is on the front end."

This concludes the video blogs on Problem 3 from our "Top 7 Fire Protection Challenges" seminar. Our next installment will identify the Causes and Cures to Frequent False Alarms in a system.

Are you interested in attending a seminar in-person? We still have complimentary tickets remaining! Visit our events page to learn more and register.


"Causes and Cures: Top 7 Fire Protection Challenges" Seminar Videos Index

Problem 1: How to Operate Your Fire Panel

Problem 2: Causes and Cures for Trouble Signals

Problem 3: Failure to Detect a Fire


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