Sending a fire alarm signal is not enough. State-of-the-art fire alarm and life safety technology now allows for a host of data, instructions, graphics and other functions that get people out of danger quickly.

Systems can pinpoint specific areas in distress and notify officials through a variety of communication notification devices, including cellular phones, pagers, etc. They may also send messages throughout a facility to direct people to correct locations or lock down areas. Messages can vary, depending on the threat level at the facility. It is all possible with fire safety systems on the market.

All eyes are on fire alarms and their ability to provide smart and intuitive life safety.

“The fire alarm market is just going through the roof and there’s tons of interest by electrical contractors,” said Nick Martello, director of marketing, Fire-Lite Alarms, part of the Honeywell Life Safety Group, Northford, Conn.

Why all the interest? Some is mandated by new codes and standards of course, but much of the interest and innovation comes from manufacturer’s products chock full of microprocessor intelligence, flexible programming capabilities, addressable circuitry and more.

One box can tackle audio, controls, digital messaging, live voice instructions and even fire fighter telephone communications in some instances. Addressable and intelligent systems can be tied to specific zones, sensors or areas of the protected premises, and supervision, maintenance and actual alarms sent to reporting devices in an instant.

UL ninth edition

Fire-Lite expects to be one of the first in the industry to have its intelligent addressable fire alarm system panel meet new requirements of the updated Standard for Safety for Control Units and Accessories for Fire Alarm Systems, UL 864 Ninth Edition, slated for mandate in March 2006. According to Martello, Fire-Lite’s new MS-9600LS communicates to devices over standard, unshielded fire wire up to 10,000 feet, allowing conventional systems to be updated to addressable systems without replacing the wire and providing significant savings.

“In addition, unlike previous systems that polled each detector or module, the MS-9600LS panel uses a new high-speed communications protocol called LiteSpeed that simultaneously polls ten devices. This new technology provides fast cycle time from inception of alarm to point of notification and permits up to 318 devices per loop to be polled in less than 10 seconds. When fitted with a second loop card, the panel accommodates a total of 636 devices, 318 detectors and 318 modules,” Martello said.

Much of the recent innovation in fire alarm system has also focused on both audible voice annunciation and advanced addressable systems. Audio evacuation systems are now mandated by some authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) in certain protected premises and places of assembly with more than 300 occupants. This has driven a move to systems that can provide clear voice commands and preprogrammed messages to guide evacuees to safe exits.

Packed with powerful options, fire alarm systems can be custom-tailored to the environment. At the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Residences at Battery Park, New York City, Classic Designed Systems Inc. of Floral Park, N.Y., installed a system that included distinctive signaling, firefighter telephone communications and automatic/manual HVAC control functions.

In addition to voice evacuation mandates, it needed to be retrofitted with a “strap-key” system, a fire fighter’s gong-based communication system required for the building’s elevators. Fire Control Instrument’s Distributed Fire Alarm/Voice Evacuation System included addressable modules to track down and pinpoint any problem or initiated detectors or devices and also met the additional engineering requirements. FCI is part of Honeywell’s Fire Group and is based in Westwood, Mass.

Flexible to the application and fast to deploy in both new construction and retrofit applications, fire alarm system technology has caught the attention of the end-user and the installer. Expect more innovation in a smaller package, as well as new network and wiring capabilities that save time and money and continue to extend the realm of application possibilities.

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.