New Fire Protection Essential

High-risk moms, babies at heart of new maternity pavilion

Texas Children’s Hospital recently added a new high-rise facility, the Pavilion for Women, to its already impressive five-building campus in the heart of the Texas Medical Center in Houston. The state-of-the-art pavilion, designed to care for the highest-risk mothers and babies, will offer a full continuum of family-centered maternity care, with all of the latest technologies and access to world-renowned experts.

The new facility was outfitted with advanced fire protection because the technology is of critical importance to the nature of care provided at Pavilion for Women, said Lonnie Rinehart, the hospital’s plant operations manager.

“For us, it all goes back to patient safety—what can we do to keep our buildings safe and our patients safer?” Rinehart said. “On the eighth floor, we have babies in neonatal intensive care that literally fit in the palm of your hand. They can’t go anywhere during a fire alarm—it’s all a part of what we do to protect them.”

The new pavilion is essentially two towers— one 15 floors, the other six floors— that are connected at the base. The building is an entire city block wide and two football fields long and is packed with cutting-edge fire alarm technologies, including two NOTIFIER fire alarm control panels, 538 smoke detectors, 248 ductmounted detectors, 1,427 speaker/strobes and 111 firefighter telephone jacks.

FireTron Inc., a local life safety systems specialist, engineered and installed the pavilion’s fire alarm system and will perform the ongoing service, testing and maintenance of the systems protecting the hospital’s patient care facilities and other buildings.

Detection and Response

Early detection of smoke and fire and the virtual elimination of false alarms were requirements for the new pavilion set by the hospital.

Nearly all rooms in the new pavilion were fitted with self-regulating detectors that examine a combination of environmental factors. Acclimate Plus detectors, produced by System Sensor, scan for the visual signatures of smoke and fire, as well as unusual spikes in room temperatures.

Given the ever-changing needs of patients and the equipment used within this facility’s rooms, the detectors can automatically adjust their own sensitivity settings based on slow, minor changes within their surrounding environment, all but eliminating severely intrusive false alarms.

“By going to this newer system, we’ll use more durable [detector] heads that don’t activate with the same thing,” Rinehart said. “We keep fire protection around our patients at all times, we don’t alert the fire department with nuisance calls and business operations continue without needless interruptions.”

Rooms used for respiratory treatment had been problematic because aerosol from one treatment would set off older detectors, Rinehart said.

Given this history with the facility’s older systems, FireTron equipped all respiratory treatment areas with IntelliQuad detectors, designed by System Sensor to detect and examine four major signatures of fire: smoke, heat, infrared and carbon monoxide. Six levels of sensitivity enable these specialized detectors to provide accurate detection tailored to a particular environment within facilities such as hospitals, where early detection is essential.

Bob Kaczarek, FireTron’s vice president of sales and marketing, said there were a few overarching goals inherent in the pavilion installation.

“The main goal is to reduce false alarms, and the other is to increase speed of response,” Kaczmarek said. “It’s not easy to get patients out of a high-rise hospital quickly. You don’t want that to happen in a hospital unless it’s the real deal— unless you know for certain that there’s a fire. And then they always want to know where the fire is, where the alarm is coming from—not just which tower; but they want to know the room it’s in, the actual physical location.”

An addressable fire alarm system has the ability to pinpoint exact locations, Rinehart said.

“If you’ve got 10,000 feet of corridor, you’re immediately able to narrow down the exact location of the fire,” Rinehart said. “For us, faster response means greater patient safety.”

When a smoke detector goes into alarm, it’s easy to spot, too. Rinehart explains that detectors have two red LED lights that “glow nice and bright” when they’re in alarm.

The goal is to respond to a situation and arrive at the location quickly. If a detector in a patient’s room alerts, the nurse station is signaled so the nurses can get right on the scene.

The hospital has a standard operating procedure for fire alarms—a “Dr. Pyro” team addresses the issue, Rinehart said. The public isn’t alerted, and the system sends out automatic preset emails, texts and pages with critical information in the event of an emergency. A nursing administrator and predetermined teams of security and engineering personnel respond to the alarm. Security and engineering handle the event until firefighters arrive, and the nursing administrator commandeers anyone needed to handle patient safety.

“It’s difficult to move a two-pound neonatal patient,” Rinehart said. “We evacuate horizontally across a patient floor, moving everyone from one end of the floor to the other, and then we defend in-place.”

system that can target certain areas with recorded emergency messages. In addition, the system offers the flexibility to give manual voice instructions via a microphone, Kaczmarek said.

Integration and Maintenance

“Our system is interfaced with all the security doors in the building—if there is a fire condition in the building, or on a floor, the system unlocks doors on the fire floor and floors above and below,” Kaczmarek said.

In Texas, he explains, there are safety requirements to have smoke removal systems in all hospital operating rooms.

“We had to integrate between the Honeywell building management system (BMS) and our system to accomplish that,” Kaczmarek said. “We basically tell the BMS when to open and close fire and smoke dampers and when to start exhaust fans—so if there is a fire in the operating room, it deals with the smoke. The equipment itself, due to the tremendous flexibility in the system software and programming, really makes it easier to handle these complex applications.”

The new technology allows for ease of maintenance, informing operators of a smoke detector in need of cleaning or some other attention. Using the keyboard at any of the fire alarm control panels, operators also can temporarily bypass detectors or other devices when performing maintenance on the system.

FireTron has barcoded all device heads, strobes, panels and other interfaces. Every test, every replacement and every alert on each device can be compiled into a report, allowing for greater detailing of maintenance and tracking of efficiency. The reports are then given to authorities having jurisdiction.


The fire alarm systems protecting the five buildings comprising Texas Children’s Hospital, plus its new pavilion, are monitored within the hopsital’s own central command center. Rinehart says the recent construction provided the opportunity to move and upgrade the Service Response Center (SRC) to a more ideal location within the pavilion.

Fire, security and medical gas monitoring are just a few of the building systems closely supervised by the hospital’s SRC.

“Anything that happens in the hospital will go through that hub,” Rinehart said. “Kind of picture a NASA control room, if you would.”

The new SRC will also include the latest graphic workstation that provides detailed graphical layouts of each building and all major fire alarm components. Notifications of all devices in alarm are immediately displayed on facility maps, along with information on the cause of the alarm, enabling a fast assessment and response.

Backward Harmony

One significant advantage of the new fire alarm system is backward compatibility, Rinehart said: “Old technology plays well with new technology as it’s added, and that’s important.”

Fire alarm control panels installed more than 20 years ago in the hospital’s five other buildings have held up well. Given the old technology’s innate backward compatibility, those will be phased out and replaced with the latest NFS-3030 panels throughout the next year.

“If we can keep the majority of the system in place and only have to replace the panels, for instance, that’s cost-savings to us, but it’s also less intrusive for our patients, staff and visitors,” Rinehart said. “It keeps the continuity of the business together.”

Planning for the Future

Kaczmarek and Rinehart have advice for other large healthcare campuses undertaking massive expansions.

“The most important thing is flexibility within your campus,” Kaczmarek said. “What I try to tell customers is put in a system that is networkable to other locations because things change.”

For example, moving the Texas Children’s Hospital SRC from one building to the new pavilion will be quite an undertaking, but it will not involve moving a thousand miles of wire. Kaczmarek said all he’ll need is one piece of fiber-optic cable to connect the new center with the hospital’s technology network.

“It provides an organization with the flexibility to do the different things it wants to do when buildings are added instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Kaczmarek said.

FireTron is working with Texas Children’s Hospital on a five-year plan to incorporate technology upgrades, maintenance and other investments.

“The backward compatibility is where it really saves the customer money,” Kaczmarek said. “They may only have ‘X’ number of capital dollars to spend in 2012, so we can provide them with incremental upgrades so they don’t have to spend more.”

Rinehart said the key is partnering with a strong, experienced system provider, like FireTron.

“FireTron is good at keeping us abreast of changing technologies,” he said. “They don’t wait for us to ask for it—they bring it to us, keeping us right at the forefront.”

This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of Security Today.


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