Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A fire at one of my customers buildings lessons learned questions to ponder

Last Tuesday at 8:41 PM 3.13.12 The Alarm Telecommunications Center (ATC) in Wheatland Pa. received a front Stairwell smoke detector activation from my customers apartment building which has a heating business on one side and and an insurance business on the first floor. A typical main street building along west Liberty ave in Dormont Pa.
911 was called and fire dept was already on way as a tenant called to report a fire. The system an Ademco /Honeywell Vista 32 FB combo Burglar fire system did its job when the smoke from the 2nd floor apartment made its way to the front stairwell and activated the system to alert tenants there was a problem. all tenants got out safely including those in the building next door which has some damage in all 8 tenants safely escaped both buildings.
The fire appears to be accidental and Allegheny County Fire Marshal Office is finishing up there investigation of it. Because the system is addressable I was able to hand over to Chief Fire Marshal Don Brucker the print out from the central station as to how the points came in to help with the investigation exactly which detector went off first and then which order they went off from there.
I installed the system around 2005 when the building was sold and required to have a fire system installed to be occupied with help from JS Boyle Electric. Thats one good thing Dormont Fire Marshal Pat Kelly has been making sure that as buildings change owners they install and have working fire systems Mr. Kelly works hard to make sure tenants are safe as he has over 100 apartment buildings in town.

Hopefully the building which is from 1870's vintage with its still visible cut glass windows will have its damaged apartments repaired and be fully reoccupied in a few months and the Heating business is still able to operate and I reactivated a partial alarm to protect the building in the mean time.from fire and burglary.
So what can be learned from this fire .Well one thing is its unique design since it was originally lighted with Gas Lights the building had a window well which allows day light down to the interior of the apartments.They also call these winter gardens some tenants actually hang plants in them etc. normally there open on the top which allows
people to open there interior windows into the well to help cool the buildings as they act as a chimney drafting hot air up. This is also a bad feature as well as it allowed the fire to get a good foot hold before firefighters arrived. Some landlords have sealed them off on top and even in between floors to reclaim floor space and help prevent fire spread as well.
But this building was left alone. Had it been sealed off on top the fire spread might not have been as fast but that's one of the unique things tenants like about the wells you can feel like your outside with out being outside. So to seal or not to seal is the question?
Next there was a small delay before the fire alarm activated should there not be system connected smokes in the apartments as well if there's a fire would this not catch the fire faster?
Yes it would but be careful what you wish for . Those apartments smokes connected to the system means every time a tenant burns toast fire trucks are on the way. Thats why typically system connected smokes are only in stair and hall ways. Buildings with smokes in each apartment tied to system are headaches for fire depts. So you ask is there some kind of compromise system that could have been used. Well most community's require individual battery powered smokes in each unit. But there are options like installing rate of rise heat detectors in each apartment and fixed heats in kitchens there by catching a fire faster and not having all the false alarms and there are even isolated heat /smoke detectors where smoke detector is powered and supervised off the fire panel but only sounds in the apartment and the heat detector is attached to the system . But this is currently not required by code at this time and
it would also add considerable expense to do this. But a good thing if you can afford it.
Then there's the fire alarm a Combo Burg/Fire system .
I hear complaints all the time how some do not like them they would rather a separate fire system be installed. Sorry I have been using them for almost 20 years now never had a problem and they always worked this one even had water damage and was still transmitting signals.
It comes down to who is installing it. Thats one thing I always have to be mindful of I try my best to make sure there done right and that goes for all alarm systems peoples lives are on the line and this proves just how valuable a system can be. Properly installed properly maintained they work.

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