The Last Word

Addressing Safety

WHEN a fire alarm goes off, everyone needs to listen.

But at the Little Sisters of the Poor in Gallup, N.M., the challenge is different. A private, non-profit nursing home recently added a modern, assisted-living component to the three-acre campus in 2004.

The three-story assisted living complex allows residents who don't need a comprehensive nursing home atmosphere to live independently while giving them access to the services they occasionally need.

Even so, 95 percent of the residents in the two buildings require some level of assistance -- ranging from minimal help to wheelchairs and other assistive devices -- evacuating the campus if a fire alarm activates.

While the complex's personnel are trained to evacuate if need be, the resident and workers would like to consider a complete evacuation as a last resort.

In a situation when a fire alarm is activated, employees at the complex need to be able to determine whether there is an actual fire, and if there is, be able to determine an exact location of the blaze to evacuate only residents near the blaze.

The home's old fire protection system was unable to accomplish those goals. The system consisted of a conventional, 10-zone panel with more than 300 points of protection throughout the facility, incorporating pull stations, smoke and duct detectors.

When an alarm was activated, the panel would show an alarm at a point that contained 20 to 30 protection zones, causing facility personnel to isolate exactly where the problem was.

And with the system, in the interest of safety, a complete evacuation of the complex occurred each time an alarm was activated. Along with the burden to resident and employees, the system caused other hardships for the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Because the emergency could not be quickly identified, the local fire department dispatched two or three engines along with support equipment each time an alarm was tripped. Financially, the facility was responsible for costs incurred when fire trucks are dispatched to the scene.

An Intelligent System
Silent Knight's IFP-1000 intelligent analog/addressable fire control panel provided the solution to the problems for the Little Sisters of the Poor.

An addressable system provides users with the status of the devices that make up the network. The status is easily viewed on a fire alarm system control unit and features information about the device and the device's address in the system.

The IFP-1000 has a signaling line circuit (SLC) loop, which can support 127 SLC devices expandable up to 1,016 points using expansion cards. Six FlexputTM circuits on the panel can be configured for notification outputs or smoke detector inputs. The expandability and flexibility of the system will help the group as their needs expand and change.

Between the nursing home and assisted living buildings, more than 300 points of protection have been installed, said Joe Meisch, owner of Advanced Technical Services in Gallup, N.M. With the Silent Knight system, the ability to pinpoint exact locations within the system is by far the primary benefit, Mesich said.

"The second a fire alarm goes off, personnel are instructed to go to which ever annunciator is closest to them," Meisch said. "At every annunicator, with one on each floor and one on the maintenance department, we have a list of all of the points of protection, so personnel can scroll down and determine the exact location of the alarm."

When a fire alarm is activated, a communications center will call the facility to determine whether there is an actual fire or if system is reporting a false alarm.

"We don't actually dispatch the fire department unless they know it's a fire, which saves time, money and resources," Meisch said. "And if there is no fire, residents do not have to be evacuated. Both the residents and staff appreciate that aspect."

Another plus with the IFP-1000 for the Little Sisters of the Poor is the calibration capability of the smoke detectors. If a detector begins to get dirty, a signal is sent to the control panel with specific information about the location and nature of the trouble.

Facility personnel then call Meisch and his company will come out and know exactly where to go and clean or replace the detector.

Conventional Systems Obsolete
The advantages of addressable systems like the Silent Knight at the Little Sisters of the Poor make conventional systems near obsolete, Meisch said.

"We don't actually do conventional systems any longer," he said. "If someone comes to us with a conventional system, we will insist on converting it to an addressable system. The only time we have installed a conventional system in the last five or six years is if we have to do a fire riser and maybe just one or two points."

The process to retrofit the facility with the Silent Knight took about six months. Originally, just the newer assisted living facility was to have an addressable system, but a construction crew accidentally cut through the fire alarm conduits that connected the two buildings due to an error by the previous system installer.

Trying to repair the damaged conduits was more difficult than anticipated. When Meisch tried to put the system back together, he convinced Little Sisters' management to convert the entire complex over to an analog addressable system.

The employees and residents of the Little Sisters of the Poor now have a fire protection system that keeps everyone safe while cutting down and false alarms and the evacuations that went with them.


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