Surely, you have heard of green construction and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system. One might not think a fire alarm system (FAS) contributes to a green building, but a FAS certainly can have some effect, particularly if a building owner works with a FAS designer and installing contractor on the facility’s fire protection goals.

These goals will establish a baseline for the operational features of a FAS and will guide the type of detection and interfaced systems that a designer will use to meet those goals.

As an installing contractor, you can assist in establishing the fire protection goals for a facility. While these goals will often exceed the basic minimum requirements of the building code, they can provide an avenue to save future expenditure and, at the same time, move the building toward a greener environment.

Other than meeting the minimum requirements of a building code, you can present these additional major fire protection goals to the owner for consideration: life safety, property protection, mission protection, heritage preservation and environmental protection.

A life safety goal gives occupants of a facility adequate warning to be able to escape a fire. This typically involves the use of total detection coverage, primarily using smoke detectors. NFPA 72 2010, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, defines “total coverage” as providing detection in all rooms, halls, storage areas, basements, attics, lofts, closets, enclosed stairways, dumbwaiter shafts, elevator shafts and chutes, and above suspended ceilings. Obviously, the ambient environmental conditions in some of these areas (e.g., attics) may make the use of smoke detection inappropriate.

But the intent of this goal is to provide early detection and early warning for the facility occupants and for the responding fire department or brigade. Some environmental benefits can accrue from total smoke detection coverage. Getting the fire department to the building while the fire remains small will keep the amount of water applied to the fire to a minimum. This will, in turn, limit the damage. Less damage means that the restoration will dispose of less material in the landfill. Less water application means less runoff into the aquifer. These results certainly help to reduce the fire’s environmental impact.

With a property protection goal, the owner will strive to limit the damage to the physical facility and meet special requirements of the insurance company. To meet this goal, the owner may choose to detect a certain size fire. In that case, the system design will surely require more detection than the minimum required by the building code. Again, depending on the choice of detection and the limits placed on the size of fire detected, the extent of damage can be minimized, which can provide similar results for the environment as the life safety design.

The mission protection goal preserves the ability of the owner to stay in business after the fire. A typical building code fire alarm system design won’t meet this goal. The extent of the detection needed to do so could, in some cases, greatly exceed the detection used to meet a life safety goal.

The heritage preservation goal requires a detailed analysis of the elements within a facility that need to remain intact following a fire. In the simplest case, the business records necessary to facilitate continued operation may represent the only heritage element worth preserving. In a more complex case, such as a library or museum, an extensive number of heritage elements may require preservation. A facility may include building materials that were allowed in the era when the building was built. Over time, research has determined that those materials represent contaminants or emit toxic gases when burned. You will need more information regarding the environmental impact of a fire in a property with a heritage preservation goal. You will also need to ensure that the installation of the FAS does not disturb or destroy the facility’s historical elements.
What about a situation where the goal of environmental protection becomes primary? In such a case, preventing the negative environmental impact from a fire in a particular facility trumps other goals. A fire in a paint warehouse built near the aquifer for a large city could cause an environmental disaster if the water runoff from the firefighting efforts contaminates the water supply. In such case, every element of the design for this facility will stress the need to rapidly contain the fire to the smallest possible area and promptly and automatically extinguish the fire.

As stated above, each goal can influence environmental preservation. Additionally, the FAS can monitor other fire suppression systems that will, themselves, affect the environment. One primary example would include using the FAS to monitor the flow of water from the automatic sprinkler system and promptly transmit a fire alarm signal to the public fire department or private fire brigade. This will help conserve the amount of water discharged during a fire. Also, should a break occur in the sprinkler piping, a prompt alarm signal will help reduce water damage.

Using a fire alarm design that includes elements to prevent unnecessary alarms and keep the FAS false-alarm free will help the environment by noise abatement.

Proper design and installation of a fire alarm system can aid a facility owner to go green. Paying attention to the fire protection goals of your customers will help you to guide the owner toward preserving the environment.

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is past chair of the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office. He can be reached at wmoore@haifire.com.