Friday, November 28, 2014

Why do some Apartment Buildings in Pennsylvania. have Fire alarms and or Sprinklers and similar buildings do not? its a very long convoluted story

An Engineer  friend of mine is looking to move and as a child he had a very bad experience with a fire where he lived. So he is always looking when he decides to find a new place to move into a fire safe apartment as his job takes him around Pa. to various long term job sites. He often wonders why some apartment buildings are well prepared safety wise with Fire Alarm and or sprinklers, yet similar size and types of apartment buildings of the same age have no safety features at all.
Well we got into this discussion one evening and I explained to him a very convoluted story as to how Pennsylvania. Building Codes  have evolved and why the disparity.
it starts in 1985 when  the Pa. Fire & Panic act was passed which required all apartment buildings to install Fire Alarm systems.

 But there is a catch like my community of Penn Hills had.

When Jack Mason now retired became Fire Marshal in Penn hills in the late 70's  He told me how  Penn Hills  basically was still following state codes from the 1920's he observed these metal buckets in hallways  in some apartment buildings which where rounded on the bottom and filled with sand in some buildings. which in 1920's was all that was required for fire protection a bucket of sand. why the round bottom this was done so it had to be hung up and not set on floor and forgotten or blocked in or used for something else.

   You can imagine his shock when he realized codes in the town had not been updated since the 1920's the only apartment buildings under that code at the time which required fire alarms where over 3 story's and then it was only pull stations and bells.Like Wellington Arms  in Penn Hills which I retrofitted with full  smoke detection systems in  late 1980's

So Jack got the council to push thru and enforce the BOCA Code which stands for Building Officials Codes Administration.   Now known as ICC /IBC Which was a good thing Penn Hills now had a unified code where structures would be safely built. But  still only apartment buildings over 3 story's had to have fire systems but now they had to have firewalls and proper fire rated doors etc. and such to improve fire safety and fire systems  when required had to meet NFPA72 regulations .

But this is where the catch came in when the new Pa.  Fire & Panic Act came into being community's which where following the BOCA code did not have to follow the new state code  or they could enforce both codes.  While Monroeville and Mt Lebanon chose to do both community's like Pittsburgh and Penn Hills chose to stay with BOCA only  and did not want to put the extra burden on apartment owners which meant those apartment buildings where grandfathered and did not have to have fire alarms installed. Which is why even today with the new Uniform Construction Code you still find Apartment Buildings with no or very old  fire alarm system.
How ever when buildings are sold now and new owners take over they must be upgraded or if there is major additions or reconstruction. So it will be decades before you see some buildings retrofitted with fire systems. While all new apartment  construction requires a system of some type depending on number of units dictates what must be used which can include sprinklers.
 But even thou the Fire & Panic Act came into being and was enforced in many community's it was still a mix match of systems and products. Yes back then it was legal to use a Burglar Alarm panel with a Fire Loop  in it to provide fire protection to a small apartment building as the Fire & Panic Act
was not state enforced and approved.  The state instead  gave the power to review plans and  enforce the code  to local community's to enforce and if the official felt a Burglar Alarm panel was good enough to protect a property so be it as NFPA72 which sets standards for how fire system must be installed  was not adopted as part of the Fire & Panic Act.  I found and changed out many such system in apartment buildings and business over the years but the thinking back then was it was better to have a couple smokes tied off a burglar panel than have nothing at all.So you find all kind of systems Pre UCC codes of 2005 if the community was also not enforcing BOCA Codes so you never know what you are going to find as back then if AHJ said it was legal it was legal which caused problems when I was quoting systems to NFPA72 standards and others where not and where half the price I was putting in. These cheaper systems where far inferior systems but it was legal in non BOCA Community's.
Then when it came to buildings requiring sprinklers this also was where many compromises where done. Some community's like Penn hills said instead of having to retrofit buildings and put in sprinklers when occupancy changed  that if you put in a full fire system and then added limited sprinklers off the domestic water supply in storage rooms and basements you did not have to fully sprinkler a building.
 So of course you find all kinds of deviations to these property's as well.

So thankfully we now do have a fully enforced even code state wide all new construction must follow and as structures are knocked down and new ones built they all must follow the new codes. But it will be decades before it has all evened out and even now there are community's not enforcing the new state codes and even Pa.UCC code is a mix and match of ICC and IBC as the whole code was not adopted by Pa.  and so it goes.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rule changes for safety in plugging in vehicles to keep engines warm in cold climates causes more headaches than its worth

It use to be receptacles which served  buses and trucks which had to be plugged in overnight to allow them to start in cold climates did not have to have GFCI protection because heaters for engine blocks where considered  a nuisance trip  of the Ground Fault units . But NFPA and NEC changed the rules and said no they where getting too many reports of drivers getting shocks and vehicles catching fire that GFCI are now required on these receptacles. Ok So now we put in the GFCI receptacles and they trip out during the night and vehicle gets cold and does not start.

One way around this is to put a light bulb and or install a relay that trips an alarm to let fleet owner know the GFCI has tripped like I did recently at a schools bus lot  the yellow and blue light will go out if one of the GFCI trips .

When security people ride by at night they can see if the receptacles are working.
Fine and dandy but what about the vehicle that trips the receptacle as soon as you plug in the vehicle?
Well that now means it does not get plugged in or mechanic has to change the heater that evening.
In many cases this does not happen so some one takes an  extension cord inside the building plugs into a normal outlet and this is done till mechanic changes it.  Which defeats whole issue of why this code was put in place and could well result in a fire.

While I appreciate the fact drivers do receive shocks on occasion the main reason it happens is sloppy fleet management  when cords are not properly maintained and the same fleet that does not maintain its cords is the same fleet that will bypass GFCI receptacles and put in normal ones so they do not have to deal with GFCI Trips.

Once again a code put in place to protect people not thought thru while yes it will protect good fleet operators the people the code was intended for go unprotected because a bad fleet operator does not care to follow codes or safety practices.

Now why could there not be a receptacle non GFCI that is under the mechanic supervision  that could allow a vehicle to be plugged in while awaiting repair and marker put on vehicle that its not properly protected see mechanic before operating ?  No you see no one at NFPA or NEC has enough brains to sit and figure that one out its
if heater unit is bad change it well thats fine and dandy when you have the required units and mechanic available to do it  immediately but in mean time if you do not NFPA and NEC want you to leave vehicle out of service in the cold and the engine and oil freezing and seizing up . Isn't that just nice.

The problem as usual with NFPA and NEC is no one ever thinks anything all the way thru just pass something to make it safe and if it does not work we will change it in the next code revision.
which is why I say  NFPA stands for nothing more than.
Not For Practical Application.   Never listen to us who work in the field and get out input just do it based on something thats not an issue in the first place.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Aiphone Intercoms once a Great Brand Now a total dissapointment

At one time Aiphone was one of the best brands when it came to commercial Intercom Systems.
solid built they lasted for years and kicked Nutones butt.But they have changed once made in Japan manufacturing is now done in Thailand and quality has gone down hill .
I will not be purchasing them any more .

I recently purchased 2 set ups one just voice the other with Video and while I got both working it was a total pain in the ass when it came to hooking the wires up.

Instead of screw terminals  Aiphone has gone to these push in terminals and you are suppose to  easily insert wire in them Wrong Sometimes the wire slips in easily and comes out easily some  times wire will not go in.

Then an important feature of the JD series the  availability is not in the JO series which allows connection to a DVR so when active persons at door can be recorded 

Once hooked up it worked fine but getting it hooked up was a pain where you have a master station and add on unit and master is wired fist its the opposite with JO series . which meant another rewire when adding a new station.

Needless to say this unit gets a fail and will no longer be considered and I will be looking for a new product line why do great companys have to keep screwing up like this and ruining there product line

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Pa. Fire Chiefs advice could well get you killed during a fire unless you take these precautions

Recently KDKA TV ran a news piece on warnings from fire chief in beaver county to always close door to your bedroom before you go to sleep . Claiming it can give up to 20 extra minutes in surviving a fire. I totally disagree unless certain precautions are taken.Becuse it could well end up getting you killed and as usual KDKA TV has failed to do Due Diligence when it comes to checking out all the facts before releasing this news article as many fire officials and investigators  are very divided on this issue including me.

First off  many fires start in bedrooms if your going to close your door make sure all bedrooms and hall way to them has smoke alarms as well as one on each level and that they are tied together so they all sound  better yet pay to have them monitored so help is on the way well before you have to call 911 or neighbor comes knocking on the door. 
Once you close that bedroom door all sounds going on in the house can now not be heard including that lone smoke detector you have in the hall. 
Like a bang or small boom or glass breaking  to warn you to an issue.  A closed bedroom door also hinders a family pet like a cat or dog allowed to roam the house at night from waking you as well will you hear them scratching at your bedroom door?  as they now can not jump on and wake you.
 Yes many a family pet has woken and helped save a home owners life. Even pet birds who made loud screeches.

Want to stop a fire in the first place its called Fire Prevention. Almost every fire you look at at least 1 or more major rules to fire safety have been ignored or broken .

So if you want to close your bedroom door and follow this fire chiefs opinion by all means do so but at least have a functioning smoke alarm in the  bed room.

Me personally I will be sleeping with my bedroom doors open so my pets can warn me to a fire or intruder as I have smokes on both levels and they are monitored 24/7  to give me and my family a chance to escape.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

All the criminal activity caught on video tape may not lead to a suspect But in this case the Burglars screwed up and cameras caught them with out their masks and the video tells us much more about crimes.

I have a customer in a rural county which runs a sandwich shop and they where recently burglarized.
Normally on video you will see the Burglar or Robber with a mask on committing the crime.
like they did here at this burglary.
Except these burglars screwed up they covered them selves with Painters coveralls and painters masks as they carried the safe outside and called for get a way vehicle  but then took them off after exiting the business and did not realize 2 outside cameras captured all there actions and their arrest are eminent. As license plate and faces where clearly visible even thou it was dark.

But with modern forensics even coveralls and a mask are no good If police have a suspect in mind as body geometry gives a suspect away.  cover and hide all they want they are just wasting there time.

But what about those who get away with it ? well what criminals are dong for law enforcement is provide a blueprint as to how they operate and commit their crimes.  Modus-Operandi

This helps when finnaly caught to nail them to a string of crimes and it also helps police understand how crimes are commited and better prevent future crimes. 
It alsomhelps them determine during the crime if criminals had inside knowledge which it apears these 2 did. 

Yes criminals think big deal I got caught on video you will never catch me . Wrong you are telling law enfocrcement more than they ever realize. and as more and more systems now have multiple back ups and stored on cloud  etc disabling the cameras will do no good either .  with modern wide anlge cameras we see all and more than most people ever realize .