Monthly Archives: March 2015

Fire Alarm Industry Continues Growing Supported by Outsourcing Services

Just stop for one moment and think: How has the fire alarm/life safety industry changed over the years? Personally, I did not have much knowledge of this industry until 9/11 occurred. Before the attacks on the U.S., the job market across all industries was booming for engineers; however, after 9/11, it seemed that the only companies actively hiring were in the life safety and security sectors. Thanks to my background in electronics and communications, I was hired as a consultant by a life safety company; it was there that I gained a basic understanding of the fire alarm industry.Outsource

Ever since I joined the field, I noticed it was growing. One driver for this development was new mandates enacted by industry leaders that required businesses to comply with safety mandates such as campus-wide mass communication systems (brought about by tragedies such as the Virginia Tech and Columbine shootings). As this growth occurred, however, there was not a simultaneous increase in the number of workers in the industry; in other words, the demand for life safety technology outgrew the market’s ability to supply it. There was a shortage of in-house employees everywhere, and outsourcing to contractors became much more common.

In fact, I can say this without a doubt: Outsourcing for fire alarm engineering designs is becoming more common in today’s fire alarm industry. I planned to retire in June of last year from my fire alarm design engineer position at M.C. Dean, Inc., and become a stay-at-home mom, but my phone would not stop ringing and my email inbox kept filling up. There was such a huge demand from fire alarm suppliers and other engineering companies who did not have enough employees to get their workloads completed. As a result, I couldn’t get away from it and ultimately decided to postpone my retirement. By that following  August, I had opened up a limited liability company, or LLC, that provides fire alarm system drawings, construction specifications, system calculations and much more.  

Let’s explore why fire alarm suppliers are coming in droves to fire alarm system designers like me:

  • We’re less costly: Suppliers don’t have to hire me full time or pay me when I’m sick or on holiday, nor provide me with costly benefits. Sometimes I will work from 9 a.m. one day to 3 a.m. the next day, and I’m not paid overtime. When the work is done, it’s done, and I’m off their books. These suppliers can keep their resources available for more long-term projects. Engineering firms that don’t do a lot of fire alarm work can ask me to handle that portion of a project for them without long-term commitments to a resource that may not be used very often.
  • Ability to travel: When I travel, my expenses are included in the budgeted cost and I make the arrangements myself. Often, a company has a difficult time parting with their in-house resources for any significant length of time to travel to off-site locations.  I am able to jump in my truck or hop on a plane and get to a remote job site for them, and they get to keep their in-house resources available nearby.
  • We provide our own resources: Suppliers don’t have to provide me with a computer, software or training. I am available to them ready to go, without the need to source the job. I am fully certified and I have my own code books, too.
  • We can start right away: Let’s say it’s Friday morning and a project needs to be done by Monday. The supplier’s staff is already busy working on existing projects, so the company shoots me an email to see if I can get the work done by deadline. If available, an outside contractor can start right away and work through the weekend (without the supplier having to pay weekend or overtime pay) to complete the project.
  • We often know multiple systems: I haven’t met an independent contractor yet that didn’t know or have strong familiarity with at least three different manufacturers or lines of equipment. My ability to develop drawings for many different types of systems gives my customers more flexibility with which projects they bid, design, or equipment they choose to provide.

Without a doubt, there’s been a shortage of in-house fire-alarm designers, which is why I’ve had plenty of business with overflow work since last year. My retirement will just have to wait for now.

About the Author
Traci L. Imhoff is the owner, consultant and fire alarm systems designer of Tracker Fire, which provides fire alarm system drawings, construction specifications, system calculations, code consulting, estimating, third-party reviews, proposal assistance, AutoCAD drafting services and bid services. She is a BSEET graduate with a solid background in fire alarm system design, electronics engineering, and project work. Imhoff is a certified engineering technologist and is certified for NICET Level III Fire Alarm Systems.

What You Need to Know About NFPA 4

Are you ready for the newest and most-talked-about fire protection standard, NFPA 4? Also known as the Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing standard, it is a significant new commissioning protocol that details the minimum requirements for testing of integrated fire protection and life safety systems. If this is news to you, it’s time to prepare for these new compliance regulations that are coming down the pike.clipboard

I’ve already seen requests for adherence to NFPA 4 included in specifications from design professionals regarding the commissioning of fire protection systems. It is possible that compliance with NFPA 4 could be mandated in the upcoming editions of the International Building Code (IBC), the International Fire Code (IFC), NFPA 1, or NFPA 101.  Therefore, you might not want to wait any longer to learn about the requirements.

So what exactly is NFPA 4? For starters, it ensures that buildings with interconnected systems (fire alarms, emergency communication systems, sprinklers and more) “operate as intended, using testing protocols, proper oversight and verification documentation,” according to the Standard. While NFPA 4 does not specify which occupancy types require this testing, it’s intended for more complex buildings that would usually include some or all of these systems—including high-rise buildings, other office buildings and hospitals.

Up until now, we could anticipate testing covered by the requirements in NFPA 72 or 92 standards, but in the grand scheme of things, each of those standards has some limitations within its scope. Let’s take a look at them:

  • NFPA 72 addresses the testing of the fire alarm system. It mandates how to test smoke detectors or the water flow switches that are used to initiate fire alarm systems.
  • NFPA 92 provides the testing criteria for the fan, damper and air movement portions of a smoke control system.

None of these system standards require you to test all integrated systems at the same time to make sure interconnection is functioning properly. Issues can occur if this kind of testing does not happen; for instance, a fire alarm and sprinkler system might operate separately but, without a proper connection at the relay, a component of the alarm system might not sound or a control function might not operate properly when the sprinkler is activated during an emergency.

NFPA 4 is intended to test the entire system—the fire alarm system and smoke control system to ensure that the separate units work as a whole. For example, compliance will require that the fire alarm system functions in conjunction with fans and smoke detectors. With this integrated system testing, at the end of a job the integrated systems will be tested together to make sure everything works together.

For fire alarm contractors, NFPA 4 offers an opportunity to coordinate systems and ensure proper integration. Responsibility for compliance testing will be assigned to an “integrated testing agent.” Due to the high level of integration that’s integral to a fire alarm system, the fire alarm contractor is a likely candidate for the position.

Furthermore, NFPA 4 requires systems to be “tested periodically,” but it doesn’t establish a specific time frame or frequency. It tasks the agent with preparing a test plan that should include “post-occupancy testing requirements.” If a plan is not developed, then the test must occur within a five year period.

While NFPA 4 hasn’t been implemented by codes yet, the day will soon come. So, do yourself a favor and learn all about it beforehand.


About the Author
Bill Koffel, president of Koffel Associates, is recognized as an expert in the fire protection and life safety aspects of codes and standards. The firm provides a broad range of fire protection engineering and consulting services to clients worldwide. Koffel serves on many NFPA technical committees including the Life Safety Correlating Committee, which he chairs, and the Technical Committee on Commissioning and Integrated Testing.


You Should Know – Carbon Monoxide Detector Placement

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and toxic gas produced by the incomplete combustion of various fuels.  Because it can be deadly and is virtually impossible to detect without an electronic sensing device, it is often referred to as the “silent killer”.  Silent Knight is at the forefront of carbon monoxide detection with the release of the SK-FIRE-CO addressable carbon monoxide detector.

Code has been instrumental in the increased installation of carbon monoxide detectors.  With this growth comes a common question:  What are the installation requirements for carbon monoxide detectors in commercial applications?  NFPA 720-2012 Section indicates that carbon monoxide detectors are installed in commercial applications where fuel burning appliances are used and/or in every habitable level and in every HVAC zone of a building.

CO detector placement diagram

The example diagram above shows 3 HVAC systems and a furnace room.  Each HVAC  zone has a carbon monoxide detector centrally located within the zone.  The furnace room has a carbon monoxide detector centrally on the ceiling.  Notice that the key word is centrally.  Because there are no requirements for spacing, such that you may see for standard smoke detectors, a single centrally located carbon monoxide detector can be sufficient in a HVAC zone.  Please keep in mind to work with your local AHJ to determine the exact requirements of your installation.

About the Author
Brian Brownell joined Honeywell in 2011 and brings 30 years of fire alarm industry expertise to his current role as a Technical Trainer for Silent Knight. ​

Get Into the Flow – Sprinkler Monitoring

System Sensor recently released a new line of waterflow detectors called the WFDN series. A redesign of their popular WFD series of waterflow detectors, the WFDN detectors boasts new user-friendly designs, including:WFDN_Video_LaunchPage

  • Improved high-contrast pad-printed set timer dialer with tactile markings allows for easy setting in dimly lit or hard to reach locations.
  • Cover design allows installers and inspectors to see the direction of the flow. Other cover features include:
    • Lightweight
    • Better seal
    • Corrosion resistant
    • Damage resistant
    • Weatherproof with a NEMA 4 rating
  • New terminal block design makes the device easier to wire with a new terminal layout, wire-ready terminals and easy-to-read raised textured lettering.
  • Internal components are replaceable. The new one-piece design simplifies the process by only requiring 4 screws.
  • Fits steel pipe from 2” to 8”

The Silent Knight Model 5104 sprinkler monitoring panel is an ideal partner for the WFDN series waterflow detectors.  This 6-zone communicator allows the use of waterflow detectors on any zone and meets requirements for a detector above the panel, manual pull stations and supervisory switches. The 5104 is also UL listed as a fire communicator for connection to UL listed 24 VDC local fire alarm control panels.

More information on the WFDN series is available on, and be sure to view their recent WFDN Series Webinar. What other information can we offer on sprinkler monitoring?

About the Author
Mark Indgjer is a Product Marketing Manager with Silent Knight.  Mark joined Silent Knight in 1988 and is responsible for new product development, product marketing and much more.  Mark is also NICET Level II certified.​

Essential Fire Protection Needs for Our Places of Worship

Churches, cathedrals, temples and synagogues are sacred to many, so it’s truly catastrophic when a fire destroys or damages a place of worship. Such a disaster particularly hit home when the church my wife grew up in burned down on a recent Christmas Eve. The fire started in the electrical closet and because the church didn’t have protection throughout, the fire went up behind a wall and the 100-year-old building could not be saved.

Unfortunately, place of worship tragedies occur quite often. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an estimated average of 1,780 religious and funeral property structures fires were reported to U.S. fire departments each year between 2007 and 2011. The fires caused an annual average of two civilian deaths, 19 civilian injuries and $111 million in direct property

So, how can places of worship avoid such misfortune in the future? For starters, when dealing with church/temple/synagogue management, fire alarm vendors should make sure the facility’s management agrees to annual inspections and maintenance. If these fire alarm systems are not getting inspected regularly, then the venue’s safety could be in jeopardy. While the volunteer boards and committees at these buildings are constantly changing—sometimes every three months—it’s paramount that annual fire inspections and maintenance remain consistent.

In addition, it’s critical that places of worship do not have false alarms. One of the fastest ways to diminish a fire alarm’s value is to have false alarms; it can slow the emergency response time, and the priests, ministers, rabbis and worshippers may start to ignore the safety notification. This inadequate response time can be devastating because when a 100-year-old church fire gets going, it can really get going. Since it’s hard to truly decrease the number of false alarms, the fire alarm system’s reliability is essential. It should exhibit a high level of dependability and provide comprehensive detection as these old buildings—full of irreplaceable items—can burn very quickly.

What’s more, carbon monoxide (CO) detection is gaining traction in places of worship. While this up-and-coming safety feature has not been mandated for churches in every state, I’m starting to recommend it to everybody. CO detection is gradually getting some penetration into the places of worship vertical, and I expect it to pick up further as the system saves lives from the “silent killer.” Even though CO is not mandated by code, it’s a huge liability for those who don’t implement the technology. With Silent Knight systems, for example, it’s very easy and inexpensive to add CO detection. Also, I expect that emergency communications’ systems will be adopted by churches that are attached to schools.

It’s up to fire alarm vendors to make sure the management of these venues are receiving the right level of fire protection because—let’s face it—the building’s volunteer board or committee doesn’t have the most extensive fire alarm knowledge. Make it a top priority in 2015 that the above-mentioned NFPA statistics come down. For more information on reliable fire alarm systems, visit Silent Knight.

About the Author
William E. Lutz, Jr. is the President of Security On-Line Systems, Inc. He attended Penn State University as a Biophysics major until joining the family business in 1980. He bought the business in 1996 and became the President of Security On-Line Systems, Inc., a cutting-edge provider of high technology security, fire alarm, access control, Internet Protocol megapixel camera, distributed audio/video and related low voltage electronic systems. The company primarily serves privately owned businesses, institutional facilities, industrial complexes and very high end residences. Lutz achieved his NICET Level I in 2000 and his NICET Level IV in 2002. He is a licensed fire alarm contractor in Philadelphia and New Jersey, and he’s a member of NFPA, AFAA, SFPE, ICC and ASIS