THE MAGAZINE

Fast Track to Fire Safety

By Laura Spadanuta

The Selection Process
 
Initially, Oaklawn relied on the architecture firm that was designing the new building and renovation to plan the fire alarm system as well. Then, Slade says the electrical contractor Oaklawn was working with recommended Advanced Cabling Systems to refine the design and implement the fire system. Advanced Cabling joined the project in March 2008.
 
The E3 from Gamewell FCI, a division of Honeywell, was chosen to fulfill the objectives of the plan. The fire alarm/mass notification combination system consists of smoke detectors, heat detectors, duct detectors, a voice evacuation system, local operator consoles, and the ability to do emergency announcements via microphone or automatic announcements, according to Ron Hicks, senior vice president of Advanced Cabling.
 
The system includes a local operator console, which has a graphic annunciator connected to the fire system. The graphic annunciator is used to pinpoint exactly where a fire alarm is going off. It also includes a mass notification system.
 
Design
 
There were flaws in the original design drawn up by the architecture firm, so Advanced Cabling and Oaklawn made some changes. For instance, the original design called for only a few strategically placed speakers throughout the facility, but for that to work, the speakers would have to be very loud (at 105 dBA, specifically). Such a high volume would have been impossible to attain, according to Hicks. So the plans had to be altered to include more speakers.
 
Other design issues arose when Oaklawn modified the layout of the facility during the renovation. These changes were made as the facility managers learned that certain types of gaming were proving more popular. In those cases, for example, Slade says “if we have a particular bank of machines that is extremely popular, well, then it is going to be noisier in that area. So we have to actually increase the volume of the alarms so that people can hear.” The alarm system installers had to be flexible and adjust their plans to accommodate the project’s evolutionary development, which they did.

Integration. The prior fire system was a standalone system. A major design feature of the new system is that it is integrated with Oaklawn’s other building systems, including access control and air-handling. That means that the magnetic door locks can be programmed to unlock in the event of a fire alarm, for example, to let patrons out and fire personnel in.
 
Integration of the air-handling system means the air conditioning system shuts down the air conditioners when smoke is detected. That ensures that the fire will not be fed by oxygen nor will the ventilation system spread smoke throughout the building.
 
The system uses relay logic to accomplish those interactions, according to Michael Kennedy, president of Advanced Cabling. “It’s programming that says, ‘if this happens, make sure this happens.’ So it’s all written in the programming of the fire alarm system,” explains Kennedy.
 
The system is not directly tied into the surveillance system (comprising Pelco Endura IP cameras) but the graphic annunciator helps operators pinpoint exactly where the alarm is. They can then pull up the corresponding cameras and see what’s going on or send people to help out in the area. Slade says he has designed databases that allow staff to match up the alarm codes with the cameras that are closest. The system includes 350 cameras in the new area and about 125 more in the area with the older fire system, says Hicks.
 
Slade would have liked a fire system that was completely integrated with surveillance cameras and perhaps pulled the screens up automatically, but he says that was out of Oaklawn’s price range. However, he adds, “we may not have the Cadillac, but I think that we are doing a lot of stuff that will almost make us look like we’re driving a Cadillac,” such as the use of the graphic annunciator and the databases.
 
Installation
 
Apart from the demands of having the design plans change midstream, installers also faced a few other challenges. One was that numerous people, from plumbers to general contractors, were all working onsite. “The gaming area is a small space and you had 10 different trades all in there at one time. All on lifts, and all taking up space, and all needed to be in the same ceiling space, or in the same floor space. And you just couldn’t get around everybody,” says Hicks.
 
But the biggest challenge was that the final implementation and gearing up of the new system had to be essentially done in one night, because the facility could not open without fire protection. Although the new alarms and pull stations were already in place, the old copper wires and even some structural pieces holding the wires from the other system had to be taken down and the new fiber had to be put in, and everything had to be up and running by 11 o’clock the next morning. The crew pulled an all-nighter to get everything in place and tested, explains Hicks.
 
The new fire system uses fiber-optic wire, which relies on optic connections, according to the installers. In the past, there would be a multitude of copper wire going to each fire alarm panel. However, the new system allows the information to be passed digitally via fiber, so only one fiber wire is needed and the fire alarm panels are redundant in case one goes down during a fire.
 
“The ease of installation allows you to save time, to save money, and to be able to pass that savings onto the owner,” says Hicks. He adds that the money savings come in “installation charges. If you’re pulling one hundred [copper] wires, you’ve got a tremendous amount of labor that it takes to pull those wires. If you’re pulling one fiber between all those panels, then you have the number of hours reduced exponentially, so…I don’t have five hundred hours in a job pulling wire, I now have forty hours. And so the amount of money that you save in labor alone and wire can be passed on to the customer, allowing for a better system and a lower dollar.”
 
In the areas where the old hard-wired fire alarm system is still being used, such as the grandstand, Hicks says that Gamewell multiple input modules have been used to tie the alarms to the new system. The old wires have been connected to the modules, which transfer the information digitally to the surveillance monitoring room. 
 
The surveillance department can monitor both the old and new systems this way, but Slade says it’s a bit more difficult to pinpoint where alarms are when they are in the older areas. “It gives us a zone, basically…the only way to really go back and check that is to send people to the area to investigate. If we happen to have cameras in those areas, we’ll pull those up first, of course, but it will basically only give us a zone to go check.”

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