Lee James, General Manager of Sales and Marketing at Nittan Europe Ltd, suggests a few ways that installers can help prevent false alarms caused by steam.
False alarms, i.e. an alarm which has been generated by the fire detection system but not in response to an actual fire, are one of the biggest issues faced by those working in the fire industry. False alarms cost the UK in excess of £1 billion each and every year.
In hotels and other places where there are significant numbers of people sleeping in rooms with en-suite facilities, steam is one of the major causes of false alarms. In these situations, you must have an alarm in each bedroom, usually placed close to the main door to protect the occupants’ escape route. But this is also where you most often find the bathroom door and a major source of steam.
Generally speaking, the Infra Red scattered light technology currently used for commercial smoke detectors is unable to distinguish between larger size particles like steam or dust and particles generated by combustion (fire).
One solution is to move the detector further away from the bathroom, but this could compromise safety and there is the cost of moving devices and cables and redecorating afterwards.
A further option is to use a Multi-Sensor which combines two sensing elements, usually optical and heat. It interprets the signals from both sensors to get a better understanding of what’s really happening in the immediate environment. Due to this, it benefits from a quick response to both slow smouldering and fast ﬂaming fires yet has greater immunity to false alarms. It’s a better option, but ‘greater immunity’ may not be good enough.
The other detector based solution open to you uses the same ‘two is better than one’ principle but in a different way. Dual Optical alarms use a single sensor type – optical – which ‘looks’ for smoke using a scattered light beam in the sensing chamber. However, instead of just using the standard Infra Red light, it also employs blue LEDs to provide a more accurate measurement of particles within the chamber. By calculating the ratio of these light sources, which operate at different wavelengths, the detector can determine the particle size and thus distinguish between smoke and non-combustion products such as steam and dust. This technology is incorporated into Nittan’s Evolution EV-DP and EVC-DP detectors. It reduces false alarms caused by steam, but the detector remains sensitive to combustion products to generate an alarm.
The University of East Anglia’s (UEA) student accommodation is a good example of the issue of false alarms caused by steam. UEA was experiencing around 20 false alarms every week caused by steam escaping from the bathrooms. Each alarm event has to be checked and veriﬁed by security personnel before Fire & Rescue Services will attend. A reduction in false alarms was therefore not just convenient, but also had signiﬁcant cost and time beneﬁts.
Greg Smith, Director of Global Fire Services who was brought in by UEA to address the issue, explains further: “Originally the plan was to relocate the existing detectors further away from the bathrooms. Whilst this would provide the same level of fire protection, it would be quite a costly solution as it would not only involve moving the devices and cables, but also redecorating afterwards to cover up where the alarms had been previously. We were also concerned that the steam would affect these devices in the new location. As the existing alarms were coming to the end of their lives anyway, we swapped them to Nittan’s EV-DP smoke detectors which easily cope with steam.” 12 months on and there have been no
false alarms due to steam.
The Cliff Hotel & Spa (pictured) in Cardigan, West Wales experienced similar problems. The hotel had been experiencing false alarms, primarily caused by steam escaping from the en-suite bathrooms. The installer, Fire and Security Alarms Ltd., was familiar with the problem and replaced the existing alarm system with a Nittan Evolution system including over 200 EV-DP dual optical smoke detectors. The new alarms have prevented further false alarm issues for the hotel.
Fire detection and alarm systems are absolutely essential, but no one should have to put up with false alarms. If your client’s ﬁre detection system is causing disruption as a result of false alarms, take action. False alarms, especially from steam, don’t have to be a headache!