Raising the Alarm on Fire Detection for the Healthcare Sector

    By Steve Kenny, General Manager, Global Advanced Fire Detection, Honeywell Building Technologies

    Fire alarm systems play a central role in safeguarding a building’s occupants – there can be no room to compromise because lives depend on them. When those occupants are patients in a medical facility who may have limited mobility or the staff that is caring for them, the pressure on fire safety systems intensifies. The focus isn’t only about protecting potentially vulnerable people – it is also about protecting the facilities they rely on for their wellbeing.

    According to U.S. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), from 2011-2015, fires resulted in more than $50.4 million direct property damage to healthcare properties in the United States. At a time when many healthcare facilities are working to control costs and manage capacity concerns, this is a worrying statistic.

    Healthcare facilities need to evaluate the types of threats to patients and staff when considering emergency evacuation procedures. This is vital as there are often unconventional potential hazards such as oxygen bottles and large lithium-ion batteries, both potentially explosive. These types of dangers increase the importance of effective and timely fire detection to minimize patient disruption and maximize all building occupants’ safety.

    Fast, early detection

    Aspirating smoke detectors continuously sample air to provide early warnings of fire hazards, helping detect threats before they escalate. Some devices provide multi-level warnings and are equipped with wide-ranging sensitivity to identify even the most negligible amounts of smoke, helping to prevent smalls fire from taking hold and causing widespread damage.

    Unlike traditional detection technology – which is largely passive, waiting for smoke to reach sensors – aspirating devices are designed to sample and test air near the most likely sources of fires throughout a building. This is important as the momentary presence of smoke in highly ventilated areas, such as air ducts, makes it hard to quickly and accurately detect it using traditional detection.

    Aspirating smoke devices can be positioned in hard-to-monitor places, such as ceilings, air grilles and openings, or within critical spaces, including operating and patient rooms. Early detection technologies can also draw air from targeted locations back to a central system that continuously monitors for trace amounts of smoke.

    Given the COVID-19 health crisis, healthcare facilities managers are also looking to limit the number of people in their buildings to reduce avoidable patient disruptions and improve occupant safety. A VESDA-E VEA aspirating smoke detector can test up to 40 locations from a central unit, which can significantly reduce the need for testing and maintenance in patient rooms and other secure areas in a healthcare facility. This can considerably limit interruptions to hospital workflow as well as decrease disruptions for the employees and patients.

    Moving Forward

    In an industry where seconds count, having an updated and efficient fire and life safety system is critical, not only for patients, but also for the bottom line. When business continuity and patient safety are essential, advanced fire detection technology, such as aspirating smoke detectors, can help to identify and address concerns before they become emergencies. With the ever-increasing pressures on healthcare facilities and their staff, it’s imperative to minimize interruptions and the costs associated with false alarms and testing.