A Burning Need

A scalable, two-wire fire system protects federal, state facilities

The protection of life and property within government facilities nationwide requires a proven solution that’s flexible, yet cost-effective. Using the E3 Series® emergency evacuation system by Gamewell-FCI, two facilities—different in both form and function—got all the protection they required.

It's In the Mail
The Postal Service Processing and Distribution Center in Dallas is part of a national network of mechanized bulk mail centers that process first-class letters and parcels. Employees at the 439,959-square-foot facility sort and route an average of 4.3 million pieces of mail each day.

Nearly 2,000 people are employed at this facility, which operates three shifts per day around the clock, seven days a week. An additional 200 workers are hired during the busy November and December holiday season. Given the importance of the facility’s federally protected contents and the large number of occupants, United States Postal Service decided it was necessary to upgrade the center’s fire alarm system.

Built on 37 acres and considered one of USPS’ largest processing and distribution centers in terms of volume, this facility accommodates more than just letters and packages. The center also houses an automotive repair shop for postal vehicle maintenance, in addition to a fuel and oil dispensing area. The presence of such highly combustible materials greatly reduced the choices of competent fire alarm systems.

Exceeding Expectations
USPS upholds strict specifications when it comes to fire system installations. For example, 100 percent of the system’s wiring must be enclosed within conduit. On top of USPS requirements, this particular facility had some system demands of its own. With that, one of the area’s integrators, APi Systems Group Inc. of Garland, Texas, was chosen to retrofit the facility with a new Gamewell-FCI E3 Series system.

One E3 Series system encompassed four loops containing 40 duct detectors, 54 pull stations and 450 horn/strobes, providing the center with the enhanced level of protection it required. Class A wiring was used.

With so many employees located throughout the building at any time, facility management needed a way to perform ongoing fire alarm tests with little to no production disruption.

“We employed push-button controls that would enable and disable all audio/visual circuits. This convenience allowed the customer to minimize any disruptions during testing,” said Roddy Bieber, branch manager for APi.

Push-button controls also were used for manual shutdown of all air handling units. Automatic fan shutdown is provided via the system’s duct detectors.

The fire alarm panel’s front includes an LCD keypad controller, serving as an intuitive system interface for various personnel. Equipped with a two-line, 80-character LCD display, a full keypad and LED indicators, the controller’s best quality is the immediate alarm information it displays for first responders and building managers.

One Complete Solution
“It’s been great. The system was set up just the way we wanted it,” said Chuck Harper, USPS building engineer. “And with our regular fire alarm testing procedures, the panel’s ability to temporarily shut off certain A/Vs prevents disruptions to postal operations.”

The modular design allows for easy expansion, making it possible to support up to 64 nodes and more than 25,000 devices. Given USPS’ conduit requirements, the networking capabilities of the application are ideal. Only one pair of copper cables or fiber-optic cables is needed to network all panels. Less wire translates to less material and labor costs for the facility owner.

“It was easy to accomplish all that was required of this fire alarm’s upgrade with this solution,” Bieber said. “I think the ease of the Dallas USPS installation and the E3’s flexibility proves the capability of the whole system.”

A Historic House-of-State
Rhode Island has traditionally been one of the most rigorous states when it comes to fire protection. Despite this track record, nearly 100 people lost their lives in a tragic nightclub fire in West Warwick in 2003. Since that time, state fire officials and lawmakers have worked to tighten the state’s stringent fire protection laws. The most notable of Rhode Island’s recent regulation changes is the elimination of the infamous grandfather clause that so often has permitted an existing facility to remain out of compliance— despite potentially serious code infractions.

Among the many facilities across the state required to bring their buildings up to code is Rhode Island’s own Statehouse, located in Providence. Constructed between 1895 and 1904, the Statehouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, based in Washington, D.C. Serving as the seat of state government, the building is considered an important monument and a significant piece of historical architecture on the Providence cityscape. For these reasons, state officials had to ensure the right life safety system was selected for the job.

Since the original fire alarm system consisted of only a handful of manual pull stations and a basement-only sprinkler system, an upgrade was long overdue.

“We worked with the Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission, which has jurisdiction over material changes to historic buildings. We had to ensure the preservation of the aesthetics,” said Thomas Wright, assistant director for special projects.

After conferring with the job’s electrical contractor, Robert F. Audet Electrical of East Greenwich, R.I., state officials decided on the E3 Series because of its flexibility and two-wire network configuration.

Advanced Life Safety
The Statehouse’s new E3 Series system included analog addressable smoke and heat detection, intelligent projected beam detectors, addressable manual pulls and an integral emergency voice and alarm communication system.

By enabling custom announcements on a zone-by-zone, floor-by-floor basis, the application allows for prerecorded messages in specific areas when appropriate— a solution sought by building officials. The audio portion of the voice system also can be used to send out nonemergency, real-time messages, ensuring a more organized and safe evacuation if a dangerous situation unfolds.

For users not entirely familiar with the system’s operation, the network graphic annunciator offers an 80-character LCD display with an intuitive touchscreen. Not your typical fire panel keypad interface, the NGA is programmed to automatically display daily system status along with clear, easy-to-follow instructions in alarm situations. Capable of displaying more than 500 different text messages, the NGA provides building managers and first responders critical information such as the location of the alarm and emergency contacts. The NGA also can notify end users of false alarms or needed system maintenance.

Less Wire, Less Harm
In years past, before network technology entered the fire alarm system arena, the physical impact of such a sizable installation on a historic facility was enormous. This solution is a first of its kind to offer complete system integration using a single twisted pair of wires or fiber-optic cable.

For fire alarm installers, the application is considerably more attractive due to its two-wire data bus configuration, offering considerable savings in metallic wire and a reduction in installation time.

A majority of the challenge involved not only the installation of new fire pulls, but also new notification appliance circuit devices.

“Prior to the installation of this new fire system, we had somewhere around 200 devices, but now we have more than 800,” Wright said.

The preservation of this historical landmark was of utmost importance, but protection of life and property remained the primary objective.

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