Lexus Retailer Gets Into Fire

High-end auto dealer protects assortment of amenities for patrons

Lexus of North Miami is a Florida-based, high-end auto retailer offering an assortment of elaborate amenities intended to support the lifestyle of the dealership’s patrons. Built and owned by the Craig Zinn Automotive Group of Hollywood, the five-story, 1.2-million square- foot facility has an estimated construction value of more than $70 million.

To protect this massive complex, its occupants and costly inventory, Gamewell- FCI Engineered Systems distributor LifeSafety Management Inc. of Greenacres, Fla., was awarded the job of installing a fully integrated fire alarm and emergency voice/alarm communication system.

“I’m told it’s the largest Lexus dealership outside of Japan,” said Nick Chaplin, director of sales and marketing for LifeSafety Management. “There are thousands of high-end Lexus automobiles and fixtures to protect, including special service equipment stored in 116 service bays, as well as retail areas, offices, a spa and gym, and a business center.”

Easy and Cost-Conscious
At the center of the dealership’s fire alarm protection is the E3 Series Expandable Emergency Evacuation system, manufactured by Gamewell-FCI. Although not an initial prerequisite, ease-of-use became a desirable feature in the eyes of the general contractor and end user.

“The system itself is self explanatory and extremely user friendly,” said Doug Poff, general superintendent of Stiles Construction of Fort Lauderdale. Tom Riley, facilities manager for the Craig Zinn Automotive Group, had similar comments about the system and service. He said he liked the fire alarm control panels’ easy setup and LifeSafety Management’s quick response.

“I like how easy it is to locate a device that is in trouble due to the way the fire alarm control panel is set up,” Riley said.

With the general contractor keeping a close eye on time and monetary expenditures, any cost-saving measures were highly favored. While many current-day systems require installation of four or more conductors per signaling line circuit, the E3 Series requires only a single pair of wires. A single unshielded, twisted pair of wires delivers addressability -- location and identification -- detection and supervision, as well as operating power for each sensor throughout the facility’s massive system.

Sufficient, Synchronizes Coverage
Synchronization of the facility’s more than 600 horn and strobe devices throughout the complex was a major code issue that LifeSafety Management’s team had to overcome.

“Due to the sheer size of the Lexus facility, we had to make sure all of the notification appliance circuit devices flashed at the same time,” Chaplin said. “The challenge was synchronization and the creation of enough power to operate all of them at the same time.”

To synchronize a large number of visual devices placed in an expansive, open facility and provide adequate power, the E3 Series’ signaling line circuits supply supervisory control to an ample number of notification appliance circuit boosters to operate the visual strobes. By adding two more conductors for the NAC output control, each NAC A/V device can be pulsed in unison per NFPA code.

Fast Talker
The backbone of the auto dealership’s fire protection system employs a highspeed network communication protocol for fast data transfers. This protocol, called ARCnet, is the means by which intelligent, peer-to-peer connectivity occurs between the main alarm panel and the controllers, annunciators and other devices in the system.

The E3 Series’ ARCnet will support up to 64 nodes per fire alarm control panel on a UTP conductor or a single fiber-optic pair cable. To create a network capable of protecting a multi-building campus, many E3 Series control panels can be interconnected, via UTP or fiber.

The metallic cable topology used in LifeSafety Management’s fire protection system design is comparable to the traditional network technology of a common LAN, but with two significant distinctions. First, the UTP that interconnects the controllers, amplifiers, annunciators and other core devices can run up to 3,000 feet -- 10 times the capacity of a typical computer network. Second, the ARCnet communication protocol employed by the E3 Series system involves a high degree of redundancy and interoperability, which allows digital signals to be regenerated at each node, thus providing a high degree of survivability.

This redundancy also enables E3 Series systems’ transmissions to travel longer distances, thereby reducing the number of repeaters needed in the total system. In terms of speed, many current-day fire alarm systems operate at 9.6 Kbaud or less. The data rate of the ARCnet backbone is 625 Kbaud, facilitating fast emergency response.

To ensure timely detection in a complex of this size, high-speed polling technology is required. The E3 Series’ Velociti(tm) polling format monitors the dealership’s more than 200 addressable initiating devices, comprised mostly of photoelectric spot- and duct-type smoke detectors. Velociti polling interrogates devices in groups of 10, minimizing the polling time for the total number of devices on a loop to less than two seconds.

The system’s voice gateway can deploy live voice paging or a variety of 16 pre-recorded messages to individual floors or locations throughout the facility. Live voice announcing can be performed via the complex’s two microphone assemblies strategically placed in the front entrance lobby and at the main fire alarm control panel.

Riley said the intelligibility of communications is noteworthy. “It compares well to other systems I’ve seen. All messages are clear and easy to understand.” When designing the system, LifeSafety Management gave careful consideration to the differences in the physical scale of departments and levels of ambient noise within the facility -- garage versus office area.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a wide range of AV devices on any single job,” Chaplin said.

Fire alarm systems generally use two types of amplification: decentralized and bulk. To enhance the survivability of system communications, Chaplin’s team used amplifiers that allow for a decentralized voice command structure. In the event a portion of the system is damaged, the distribution of all EVAC functions throughout the facility helps to ensure ongoing delivery of communications.

Integrated Protection
The fire alarm control panel installed by LifeSafety Management, combined with two Command Voice Gateway controllers, is capable of integrating fire detection and EVAC along with other facility subsystems. The latter includes door control for smoke spread prevention; the control of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; and elevator recall and damper control. The system’s flexible, modular design and emergency voice alarm communication system capabilities also pave the way for emergency communication functions in the future.

Integration became a critical component when designing a fire protection solution around the dealership’s unique three-level tire carousel -- a major area of concern identified by the authority having jurisdiction.

“This is an enclosed sprinkled concrete shaft with access openings on each level,” said Nick Scolaro, fire systems project manager for LifeSafety Management. “These openings require fire doors that automatically close when there’s a fire, providing air-tight containment. Upon fire initiation within and just outside the shaft, the fire door controller is programmed to release these doors within six to eight seconds.”

Automatic door closure in the tire carousel prevents smoke spread throughout the complex. The same method of integration was used where door holder closers and traditional magnetic door holders maintain fire doors in an open position throughout the complex.

In South Florida, sprinkler systems are typically “wet” in type, meaning water is present in the pipes at all times. The fire alarm system supervises all sprinkler tamper switches and water-flow devices to detect when water is turned on/off or is flowing through the system in the event of sprinkler head activation. A fire pump is another integral part of the dealership’s sprinkler system, also supervised by the fire alarm.

The fire protection challenges and how they’re being met at this expansive, multi-purpose facility can offer a lesson for practically any application. The system’s advanced capabilities deliver a scalable fire protection solution that is easy to operate and economically advantageous for new construction and retrofit applications of any size.

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Security Products.

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