Hospital Complex Cultivates Healthy Fire Protection
St. Peter’s Hospital gets fire alarm upgrade
- By Beth Welch
- Apr 01, 2015
A decade ago, St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, N.Y., started a $259
million campus-wide modernization project. The three-phase
project included construction of a six-story Patient Care Pavilion
with 24 operating rooms (OR) occupying two floors. One of the
ORs is a new hybrid OR—one of only 29 in the world. Other addons
included modern patient care units, a pharmacy, a new endoscopy suite and a
food court. The new Pavilion’s addition was going to necessitate the entire complex
bring its fire protection up to meet current standards.
St. Peter’s began its fire alarm upgrade with the replacement of a long-standing
NOTIFIER system in its main hospital facility. Two legacy NFS-2020 fire alarm
control panels were swapped out with the latest ONYX Series NFS2-3030 systems,
which tied in seamlessly with existing detection and notification devices. The fire
protection network was then expanded to cover NFS2-3030 systems protecting the
new Patient Care Pavilion and existing Professional Office Building.
The next phase involved the addition of a Digital Voice Command (DVC) system
for voice evacuation in all three buildings. To provide authorized personnel
a view of campus-wide fire alarm network conditions and give first responders
control of the smoke purge system, network and smoke control annunciators were
installed at the hospital’s main lobby entryway.
“I thought we had it good with the 2020 system,” said St. Peter’s Electrical
Supervisor, Dan Machabee. “The features and the additional equipment that were
installed since the time when Alarm & Suppression first arrived have greatly improved
this facility’s fire alarm layout, expandability and coverage to the point of
Most of phase three involved more interior renovations to all floors within the
main facility, which necessitated the addition of another fire alarm control panel
to the network.
For long-term projects such as this, a slow phase-in of newer technology could
be potentially problematic, particularly when there are hundreds of field devices,
such as detectors, pull stations and annunciators, installed throughout the older
buildings. In today’s fast-paced world of rapidly changing technology, older devices
would typically not be supported, requiring they be replaced.
This was not a concern for Brad Nelson, Project Engineer / Senior Technician
for Alarm & Suppression, Inc. who has overseen and engineered all phases of the
hospital’s fire alarm work, in addition to serving as its alarm service provider.
“We’ve worked on other long-term projects with NOTIFIER equipment, and
upgrading to newer, more advanced technologies has not been a problem,” says
Nelson. “This line is engineered to handle a smooth transition from old to new,
which ensures a long-life for the owner’s investment.”
To switch over the main hospital’s legacy fire alarm, Alarm & Suppression downloaded
the original panels’ data and, using NOTIFIER’s ConvertiFire software,
processed it to work with the new system. The converted data was loaded into the
NFS2-3030 panels, allowing them to be switched over, programmed, and operational
within minutes of applying power. ConvertiFire, as its name implies, converts the
database of most legacy NOTIFIER panels into the ONYX Series language.
As Nelson explains, “This is a huge time saver. The ConvertiFire software can display
a report of device type codes that are no longer available or that have changed;
that way you can seek those points out and re-program them accordingly.”
“Both Alarm & Suppression, and electrical contractor Schenectady Hardware
and Electric had a game plan in place, all the material on site and ready to go on
the day of the changeover,” he said. “We were up and running on the new system
hours before anticipated each day.”
Switching over the voice evacuation portion of the legacy system was a little
more involved. The existing 80 voice messages had to be re-recorded into the new
Digital Voice Command (DVC) system from NOTIFIER and then expanded by
nearly 100 additional customized messages for the new Patient Care Pavilion. The
DVC system allows for more detailed audio messages to be delivered to the entire
hospital complex. The goal was less confusion, better audio clarity and a quicker
implementation of the emergency actions for which hospital personnel train.
As for any upgrades to existing detectors and other initiating devices, the hospital
facilities staff were able to handle those. NOTIFIER systems perceive each
new device as a data packet and accepts the information without having to take the
system off-line for reprogramming. Such a seamless transition saved considerable
labor, cost and business down-time.
Working closely with Machabee was key to this project’s smooth transitions, stated
Nelson. “Keeping the dialog open allowed the fire alarm system to be tailored to
meet any needs related to maintenance and the electrical department’s needs.”
Understanding a New Language
The fire protection transplant came with a powerful, PC-based graphic interface
to simplify fire alarm monitoring and maintenance. The ONYXWorks graphic
workstation from NOTIFIER arms hospital personnel with more comprehensive
information on the entire fire alarm network throughout the main hospital, outlying
buildings and Patient Care Pavilion.
Stationed in the hospital’s well-staffed security room, the graphic workstation
is programmed to display written and visual information on five basic signals: fire alarm, supervisory alarms, trouble signals, maintenance alerts, and disabled devices. When an alarm signal
is received, the workstation’s monitor automatically
zooms into a three-dimensional floor plan to show the
affected area and the device in alarm.
Information specific to the alarm and location
has been programmed to display immediately, which
can include emergency contacts, the area’s contents,
and occupants with special needs. Information pertaining
to system functions can also be shown, such
as whether a specific detector is assigned to cause
elevator recall, release magnetic door holders, or
activate other emergency safety functions.
Even text files, audio messages, images and videos
can be linked to any fire alarm point capable of
causing a signal. In most cases, this additional information
is used to provide ONYXWorks users a better
comprehension of the affected location, or even
something more technical, such as how an exhaust air
intake door should look once returned to its normal
position, for example.
The graphic workstation has been programmed
with special functions to help Machabee’s team service
various field devices. Machabee refers to the ONYXWorks
PC as a ‘spoiler’. “It is now extremely easy
to locate devices to enable/disable for hot work permits
and maintenance issues.”
The new smoke detectors installed throughout St.
Peter’s can be pre-programmed to send a maintenance
alert or go into alarm at any one of nine alarm threshold
levels. When one of the detectors reaches a predetermined
level indicating an “alarm signal” is imminent,
the workstation operator is given an audible
signal while the individual device is automatically displayed
on the screen. Simultaneously, ONYXWorks
sends an email to eight individuals responsible for inspecting
the device and area in question. This advance
warning allows the trained staff to prevent unnecessary
disruptions to the quality health care critical to
St. Peter’s mission.
“My favorite feature is the e-mail notification
function, because no matter where I am in this large
facility, if an alarm condition happens, I am able to respond
to the exact location so much faster than without
it,” said Machabee.
The hospital’s maintenance and electrical staff
knew they had taken a big step forward when they
received their first email message, indicating a detector
was nearing its alarm threshold, and were able to
“Both Alarm & Suppression, and Schenectady
Hardware & Electric, have proven to be incredibly
reliable and able to solve problems when they arise,”
said Machabee. “We’ve all worked early, late and
through breaks to get the job done
right. This is part of the reason I
can sleep at night.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Security Today.