Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fire Alarm Boosters

Fire Alarm
Signal Booster Panels
They help to comply with ADA requirements but they present there own danger when not properly installed?

By Nick Markowitz Jr.

With the introduction of the Americans With Disabilities Act ADA in 1991 it became a requirement to put Strobe lights all thru any public accessible structure.
But with the legislation came some undesired consequences.
Most fire panels unless it is a small fire system do not have enough power to activate all of the strobe lights.
So the industry responded by producing signal booster panels that can be remotely located from the fire panel to give the extra boost needed to operate the strobe lights, which have a high current, draw on start up.
The problem is the panels have to be properly wired and supervised to work. This is where there is much confusion among alarm installers who do not keep up with there education as we are finding out with the new ICC codes in place which enforce thru NFPA 72 what a qualified Alarm installer is. I figure roughly 70% of installers in this state fail to meet the requirements. Many installers have never attended classes and have only learned how to put in systems from somebody else who was never properly trained
How the hell do we allow such an important occupation just as we do with Electrician’s go on like this?

1st off the panel must have either the appropriate smoke or heat detector located with in 20 ft of it to protect it from a fire so it will operate, when needed.
Many installers do not believe this is a requirement when in fact it is but hey who reads codebooks.
There are a set of supervising contacts in the booster panel, which must be hooked up to the fire panel that warns if there is an AC power loss or Low battery and that the booster is properly functioning.
Many installers fail to hook up theses contacts they automatically assume since the supervised signal loop is going thru the panel that if there is a problems with the booster panel it will signal at the panel. Wrong.
This problem has proven its self several times were not one signal has gone off when a system has been tested because the power was accidentally turned off the battery went dead and no trouble signal was received.
Also installers are suppose to mark inside the fire panel the fact there is a booster on the circuit and were it is located again this is a code regularly disregarded. I had a School system I took over and they had a problem were not all horns and strobes were coming on.
I knew I had to have a booster somewhere but no one knew. It was finally found after we crawled all over the building and found it in a ceiling. Again this whole problem could have been avoided had the code been followed.
The breaker the Booster is attached to is to also be clearly marked as well warning it is part of the Fire System again hardly ever done.
But to make this whole situation even more interesting is the fact that many times boosters are not even needed. In many cases all that has to be done is to increase the size of the wire from 18 gauge typical to 14 gauge which allows the strobes and horns to work but the 14 gauge wire is more money and the Girlymen installers complain about how hard it is to work with. When in fact money wise you actually come out ahead when you figure the cost of the booster and battery’s it needs. And the batteries for the booster also have to be properly sized for 24-60 hours of back up something again that is not done.
I have even seen installers try to build there own boosters with off the shelf power supplies all of which is wrong and illegal but
Once again we have a situation were Technology has been both beneficial and dangerous at the same time. Until they come out with a goof proof unit or inspectors actually know what’s going on Ad do a internal physical inspection of the fire alarms it will be business as usual. Even with ICC