Replacing fire detection systems is not always a priority, but ageing systems can have reduced effectiveness – with potentially dire consequences. Rod Rolfe on fire systems and what to do as they reach the end of their cycles.
A functioning fire detection system is vital for keeping people safe and mitigating the loss of property and goods within a building. If properly maintained, it is effective in detecting the early onset of a fire, giving ample time to evacuate occupants and alert emergency services to contain the fire.
To ensure fire detection systems are reliable and operate as intended, equipment should be maintained in accordance with Australian Standards AS1851 (mandatory in some states and territories), as this Australian standard sets out the minimum routine services and maintenance procedures to validate the operation and reliability of the system, thus minimising the risk that building owners don’t meet their fire safety ‘duty of care’ obligations. It is therefore essential that building managers and owners understand their site’s individual fire safety requirements, that the right equipment is in place and the system has been maintained to ensure its effectiveness.
Unfortunately, replacing fire detection systems is often not prioritised, with many building owners and managers choosing to maintain existing systems for as long as possible rather than replace outdated equipment. Yet an ageing system will often have reduced effectiveness, which can have dire consequences in the event of a fire. Outdated systems can also increase the likelihood of false alarms, which can be costly for organisations who pay a fee whenever a fire truck attends on site.
The role of fire service providers is to conduct regular fire detection system maintenance and audits but currently there is no mandate that stipulates when outdated technology should be upgraded.
Fire detection systems across the country can vary in age with many business and residential buildings spanning more than 20 or even 40 years. If a fire detection system predates the year 2000, it is very likely to have exceeded its service life, which makes it difficult to maintain due to sourcing discontinued parts. Therefore, the system is likely to be non-compliant with state-specific guidelines and laws.
Given the complexity and structure of various legislative requirements, Wormald recommends that a fire service provider, trained in compliance and auditing, inspects fire detection systems. A compliance check will determine whether the system is nearing or has reached its end-of-life cycle and provide recommendations about next steps.
Often when a system is pre-dated, there will be a need for capital expenditure investment to replace and install new technology to meet compliance.
Leveraging capital expenditure for fire detection equipment
In general, the main considerations for upgrading a system will include the age of the equipment, whether it performs as required, if it is serviceable and the availability of spare parts. If an equipment upgrade is the only solution, a consultation with a fire service provider is the first step in determining how to budget for replace equipment and the implementation process required to meet the site’s compliance requirements, whether a complete refit or a phased approach, for example, a multi-storey building may choose to upgrade their equipment floor by floor.
While a fire detection system may still operate, it may not work to its optimal intent or specification. An old dysfunctional system can have a detrimental impact in several ways. Increased sensitivity of a smoke sensor can sometimes cause false alarms that can prove costly and interrupt buildings unnecessarily.
Decreased sensitivity can also delay the detection of a fire and the response time for fire services to attend and deploy a crew to contain fires. Another factor is the environment in which detectors are installed, for instance a sensor in a dusty and dirty location may have a reduced life compared to one in a clean and sterile environment.
Communication is important in coordinating the service of fire detection systems, especially when state legislation can differ causing confusion. Overseas in places like Singapore and Hong Kong, there is a mandate for the replacement of equipment every 10 years. In Australia, the requirements vary as you travel around the country.
The application of AS1851 varies according to the state you live in. For example, in NSW compliance is based on standards of performance rather than maintenance to a particular standard, while in Queensland routine servicing and maintenance of your fire detection and alarm system to AS1851-2012 is a statutory requirement set out in the Queensland regulations.
Building owners and managers should talk to their service provider to understand when equipment is nearing the end of its service life, and the replacement options available. New technology in modern fire detection panels not only meets current legislation, but typically offers significant benefits such as the ability to integrate with building automation and control systems that can make it easier for fire service providers to access building information, undertake routine maintenance remotely and identify the location of people during an emergency. The newer systems also provide greater transparency around sensor data and reporting.
Rod Rolfe is national learning and development manager at Wormald Australia.
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