Distinguishing Gentlemen

Do you keep up with new fire alarm systems technology developments? If you do, you will have an edge when you speak with customers about their fire alarm system needs. Most of your clients will ask for code-compliant systems. You should make certain you can provide a system that meets this criterion.

Nevertheless, what will set you apart? As I’ve stated here before, the important thing in any initial conversation with clients about a fire alarm system installation is to ask what they have identified as their fire protection goals. By starting with this question, you will better understand what types of fire alarm systems will meet their needs. And, keeping up with technology developments will enable you to present ideas where the new features will meet the customers’ goals as well as possibly reduce costs.

This becomes especially true when a client asks you to replace an existing fire alarm system. One of the owner’s goals may be reducing unnecessary alarms that he or she experienced with the older system. Your competitors might try to sell a one-for-one replacement of all devices and appliances without understanding the customer’s goals for the new installation or the issues that they faced with the existing system.

Assuming you have discovered that the customer wishes to avoid unwanted alarms, you can address it through a little investigation. Generally, unnecessary alarms have just a few main causes. Excluding a defective device or an occupant-caused unnecessary alarm, the most common triggers come about because smoke detectors activate from nonfire sources. 

Another source arises from a water surge in a sprinkler system that does not have the proper water flow switches installed. Addressing the water flow issue normally proves relatively easy. Determine a solution by reviewing the type of water flow switch installed, ensuring it has the necessary delay mechanism to account for water surges, and adjusting it to accommodate the surges that occur.

Normally, addressing the smoke detector issue would prove a little more challenging. As a first step, determine the type of smoke detector—ionization or photoelectric—that the previous contractor had installed. Then, you would need to determine the ambient conditions in each area where an unwanted alarm occurred. Finally, using smoke detectors that employ new technology allows you to address the problem more efficiently and immediately. In addition, you can accomplish this goal without the need to rewire the system or change smoke detector locations.

Most smoke detector manufacturers offer devices called “multicriteria smoke detectors.” These units require multiple independent fire sources to initiate an alarm signal. For example, System 
Sensor’s fire detector combines four separate sensing elements in one unit:

The integration of continuous monitoring for all four major elements of a fire has enabled this manufacturer to create a detector that responds more quickly to an actual fire with the highest immunity to nuisance alarm sources. As stated by the manufacturer: “This advanced multi­criteria detector normally operates at a high immunity level and changes to become very sensitive to fires as soon as fire characteristics are sensed. In this way, nuisance sources are monitored and ignored, reducing false alarms.

“The detector’s microprocessor runs advanced algorithms that dynamically adjust detection parameters to respond to the inputs from the sensors, enabling instant response as ambient conditions change. The program changes sensor thresholds, sensor gain, time, delays, combinations, sampling rates and averaging rates. If any sensor fails, the detector automatically adjusts the sensitivity of the remaining sensors. It also recognizes a fault condition.”

A typical application for these types of multicriteria smoke detectors is anywhere sources of unnecessary alarms prevail. One example is a working fireplace where the chimney’s flue does not draw smoke upward efficiently as the body of fire in the fireplace diminishes. As the smoke—which has mostly lost its thermal component—drifts out into the space, a standard smoke detector would respond to the smoke condition. A multicriteria smoke detector would ignore it.

Knowing that this technology exists will help you serve your customers in ways your competitors would never think about. This will allow you to not only meet the customer’s fire protection goals, but also create a loyal customer. The fact that you found an innovative way to fix a problem will also encourage the customer to tell his or her friends about you. This, of course, leads to more business opportunities.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist
Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. Moore is a vice president with JENSEN HUGHES at the Warwick, R.I., office. He c...

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