Wireless fire systems are on the rise

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The challenges facing the fire industry are global, wireless offers a worldwide solution, Tom Crane, Business Unit Director, Hyfire explains

As we have seen with recent high-rise residential fires in Italy and the USA, the challenge of meeting fire safety requirements in high-rise buildings is by no means unique to the UK. Globally, a renewed focus on fire prevention, limitation and effective evacuation is causing fire systems manufacturers, specifiers and other industry professionals to look for new ways to deliver effective solutions as simply and efficiently as possible.  

The old ways are not always best 

While fire technology is always developing and the capabilities of the modern fire system are far beyond what could be offered even 20 years ago, the basic concept of individual devices connected by wired loops to fire panels has not changed in decades. Projects generally follow the same process of risk assess, design and quote. Then, if won, they move onto installation commissioning and maintenance. Professionals will be competing with largely the same technology, offering systems that are largely identical except for a few differences in cause and effect.  

Even once the tendering process is over, installing a fire system can take months to plan and complete. These might range from changes to the building that weren’t included in the plans, to asbestos and external factors, such as the availability of other contractors and trades. This whole process takes time and does not offer any innovative solutions to the problems of inconvenience and collateral damage caused by any wired system installation. 

With a wired fire system there are many uncertainties that we have learned to live with, which mean the fire installer, project manager, or end user do not have full oversight of the situation. This makes it difficult to allocate staff resources effectively, particularly when you need different skills at different times, and creates a much greater logistical challenge.  All of this generates uncertainty for fire professionals, end users and often the occupants of a building, as well as adding to costs.  

With the onset of Covid installations were affected due to physical distancing. In the past, fire systems were usually empty when new systems were installed, but with new regulations and legislation demanding urgent upgrades and renewals, this is no longer always the case.  

Wireless fire detection and alarm products hold an answer to many of these challenges. The technology is mature and widely accepted with the best commercial systems and devices, such as the Targus range from Hyfire, having the same sensing and performance approvals as the best wired systems, and a specific performance approval (EN54-25) for the wireless infrastructure. 

Wireless Choice is Growing 

Wireless devices have traditionally been used in sites where wires cannot go, such as historic buildings. They are now becoming mainstream, installed in all manner of sites from industrial sites to schools. In fact, over the past decade, rapid advances in technology and manufacturing have made wireless a viable and cost-effective alternative for many fire systems, eliminating the need for cable and all of the problems it can bring. For example, a recent Hyfire project in London saw a high-rise residential install and commissioning take less than four weeks, with minimum inconvenience to residents. Contrast that to a traditional wired system, which would have taken up to three months, plus all of the cost, disturbance and intervention in the fabric of the building it would have entailed.  

Some systems such as Hyfire’s can offer the best of both worlds, functioning either in fully wireless modes, or in hybrid configuration with wireless devices mixed in any combination on wired loops. There are no surprises with a wireless system, the exact devices required are defined in the initial survey, the system can be pre-programmed quickly and easily off site and installed by less skilled workers, in less time. Disturbance to tenant businesses and the need for fire watches are all but eliminated and costs and timescales are guaranteed, plus the time savings mean that many more projects can be completed. The result is that the vast majority of installation firms have at least installed wireless ‘add on’ systems and a significant number are wrapping their businesses around the wireless model. 

The list of suppliers and range of available wireless fire alarm and detection devices is comprehensive, but it is worth working with a leading commercial wireless company. It is also worth choosing a supplier that is a specialist in fire devices that are wireless, not simply wireless devices. The definition is subtle but profound when performance considerations come into play.  

A serious commercial wireless manufacturer will have the best chamber designs with dual angle detection, multiple sensing technologies, all the relevant input and output devices and often, like Hyfire high performance EN54-23 devices, specialist control modules such as wireless door holders, and even very specialist devices such as Intrinsically Safe. 

Advances in battery technology and LED lighting mean wireless systems can run for many years without a battery change, a period that’s likely to extend further in the future. Battery choice, lifetime and the cost of batteries becomes a key differentiator in wireless systems, some manufacturers use ‘off the shelf batteries’ that can be bought in a supermarket, others specialist batteries, and so more expensive, potentially locking in maintenance suppliers and costs.  

Assurance and adaptability 

All wireless fire systems begin with a pre-installation survey, taking a detailed look at the building, identifying any potential issues to be overcome, pinpointing the exact location of each wireless device and working out an exact schedule for installation and testing. It will ensure that the completed system will perform as specified, which is a guarantee that wired systems, with their susceptibility to loop faults, can often struggle to maintain, and will also certify the cost of the project, which means no hidden surprises that can change installation projects and even system design and performance. 

The basic topology of a wireless system remains the same, using standard addressable or conventional panels connected via the fire loop to wireless translators. These build up the wireless communication network, on which the input and output devices sit. Systems can grow from very small to very large, easily and reliably. The extent of these high-performance systems is limited only by installation standards or the number of devices that a fire panel can control. 

Wireless and hybrid systems can be scrutinised and controlled remotely in the same way as any wired installation, offering a round-the-clock view of system status. In terms of monitoring and control, while some wireless systems limit the communication with the panel, the best, such as Hyfire’s, deliver rich data over the loop and are indistinguishable from a wired system in configuration, performance and control terms. This means that all cause and effect, such as false alarm management and monitoring, are readily available. 

Wireless is the Future of Fire Systems 

Industry bodies such as the UK’s FIA (Best Practice Guide to Fire Safety) have acknowledged the value of wireless technology to help meet changing standards in the fire industry and it can also help to address some of the other challenges we are facing. With less time needed to install or update each system, it’s possible to deliver improvements quickly and efficiently, with short lead-in times and less manpower.  

In terms of outlay, because there are no nasty surprises to be found during the installation of wiring loops, installers and specifiers of wireless can guarantee installation costs, and radically reduce commissioning costs, making their businesses stronger, offering certainty to the end client, and allowing jobs to be scheduled more reliably. 

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