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Fire Alarm competence and compliance webinar

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Your questions answered

What is the expected duration of the wireless batteries and is there warnings if a battery fails?

Wireless devices have a varying battery life expectancy depending on the manufacturer and device type.

As an example, the system shown within the presentation has a battery life expectancy of 10 years for Input type devices (detectors/call points) and 5 years on Output type devices (sounder, sounder base, VAD etc). This allows for a 20 second test once per week.

The devices run on a primary and secondary battery, spending more time on the primary cell. In the event of primary battery failure, a fault is communicated to the CIE. The secondary is expected to last for 2 months.

What are the most common building applications using wireless fire detection systems?

Historically, heritage type buildings or where cabling and disruption to the owners or building fabric is problematic.

Now, a shift in the market has been noted with wireless being used in more sectors of the market such as commercial office fit out. The ease of installation, device performance and battery life time’s create wider use for not just installers but building owners and specifiers.

This method also presents a huge reduction on the amount of fire stopping works required compared to a wired installation.

What are the environmental criteria, e.g. signal interference requirement etc, for installing the wireless fire alarm system?

Prior to any installation commencing, a wireless signal test is required as noted in the Code of Practice.

Such signal test is undertaken to not only determine if the environment is applicable for a wireless system but also the equipment required to successfully install such a system.

Recent additions to surveying equipment also scan and report interference on radio channels and frequency.

Do the expander modules use GSM for communication? Is GSM coverage required to be checked as part of the survey requirements?

Expander modules are an extension of the wireless infrastructure and communicate on the 868Mhz frequency and protocol of the system.

It is the responsibility of all interested parties to survey, agree location and power requirements of these devices. This must comply to the Code of Practice and Building Regulations.

What lifecycle replacement would you recommend for Fire Alarm systems? On client side of an FM service provision, I will always approve replacement of life safety systems such as Fire Detector heads but am advised OEM lifecycle replacement is recommended between 10 - 15 years by the OEM.

Recommended replacement at 10 years which is now inline with several major UK manufacturers.

On the wireless devices, how long do the batteries last and what is the recommended battery change time i.e. 6 months?

10 years on inputs, 5 years on outputs. However some service providers may change sooner. [See response to Q1 above].

Is the wireless system reliable considering that battery life expectancy can be reduce by environmental factors (i.e. high or low temperature)?

Yes, problematic environments or environmental factors should be discovered and considered at the point of survey.

A competent system designer, installer and commissioner will ensure that the system is at its most optimum for the environment and life span.

When linking to a PAVA system, how do wireless systems provide a contact closure for message activation and a clear down contact too? How does the wireless system monitor that connection? How can a PAVA system provide a contact to the fire panel with wireless connectivity?

Supervised input and output modules are available from the Wireless FD&A system, providing signals in the same way as a wired system.

An output can be used to provide the interface from the FA to the PAVA, whilst the input can be used to monitor the PAVA from the FA system.

The bit that I would like to know a little more is the wireless bits - is there a list of the components and do they also work on loud speakers?

A full audible and EN54-23 VAD range is available. The output type devices can operate at over 90dB in alarm if required.

Can we have a wireless fire alarm system fully networked but spread across various buildings? Would the panels communicate with each other wirelessly?

Wireless connectivity of panels is available, however, careful attention to the Code of Practice should be noted.

Standard and Fault Tolerant networking requirements must be conformed to.

You mentioned none GSM, can you elaborate on the frequency bandwidth the systems operate on?

868Mhz is a frequency noted and "reserved" in the UK for wireless FD&A systems. All approved systems will use this frequency. Manufacturers then use channels and bandwidths within this frequency along with their own communication protocol.

Modern systems offer a tool to scan the channels and frequency within buildings on a survey to avoid conflicts and ultimately perform as a life safety system.

Electrical contractors or dedicated fire alarm contractors - who have the best records for installations?

Sadly, both can be just as bad and just as good. In general, record keeping and documentation is not as good as it should be.

Third party independent quality assurance on installations was once carried out by clerk of works. This appears to be a dying breed sadly and I was wondering if the standards insist on independent quality assurance at all? If not, what do the panel recommend for independent QA and what competence does such a person need?

I personally would like to see the commissioning of systems being carried out by a separate person. However, this would disadvantage one-person companies and contractors, so unlikely to happen.

If you break a fire seal for a new cable to go through, does the fire stopping work need to be completed by a specialist contractor or can the electrical contractor do it themselves? Does the fire stopping material need to match what was originally in place such as graphite based sealant?

The law states you should be competent to carry out any fire stopping, so the electrical contractor doing the firestopping must have training on it.

Any breached and poorly repaired firestopping would be a risk to the building should a fire start in that compartment.

I recently snagged an installation hard wired for a primary school. It was to replace an existing system and the contractor had flung the cabling in any way he could - in mains trunking, clipped to existing pipe work, non fire proof fixings etc. It was appalling - so bad, we stalled the work and told the subbies to not return. In such works, would a third party body come and inspect the works and report the contractor?

I would love to say yes, a third party body would investigate, and some would, but many will not.

Often within the terms and conditions of this scheme, the first step is to complain to the person or company that carried out the work.

This is where I feel they are a little flawed, they rely on companies carrying out work to be ethical.

Are there any differences between the England regs and those in Scotland and Wales?

The simple answer is yes; the Regulatory Reform Order for example is very different to the Fire Scotland Act.

Unfortunately, if you work in all areas you will need to consider the legislation in each separately.

What specific fire warning systems are recommended for PV solar installations?

Tricky to give specifics to all PV Solar systems as I would depend on what area you are covering, for example if the panels are on a domestic roof, it would be near impossible to have some sort of detector for each panel, where if it was covering a battery bank inside a garage or other building a optical smoke detector may be used.

BRE have an excellent report on PV Solar.

What formal level 3 qualifications are available for fire alarm installers?

There are a few different options for people; there is a complete Fire, Emergency and Security systems apprenticeship with government funding, Ofqual approved BS 5839-1 level 3 from EAL are available at the EAL training centres

How does IEng or CEng prove competence in fire alarm design or maintenance? Surely BAFE type accreditation is much more relevant?

When you become a Chartered Engineer, your experience within the industry you are in is scrutinised far more than under the BAFE scheme. I can speak from experience on both as I have done both.

We have had BAFE for 20 years, and they currently only consider the company and will only look at the skills matrix for the company. For example, you could be signed off under the BAFE scheme as an Advanced Installer without picking up a screwdriver (because you have a theory qualification) whereas the Chartered Engineer process you have to prove your design, installation and commissioning skills competence both theory and practical to a level equivalent to Masters Degree.

What are the minimum qualifications you should have to install and maintain fire alarm systems?

Unfortunately, this can be a little vague within the law and will say you need to be competent without a list of what you need.

I would always point people to clause 3.12 of BS 5839-1 which states a Competent person must have relevant current training and experience.

In my opinion, for installation, you need to have qualifications and training on the Wiring Regulations (18th Edition) and a practical qualification or assessment in wiring to BS 7671. Then, you would need to again be qualified/ trained to BS 5839-1 and BS 5839-6, trained on the equipment being installed as a minimum.

In relation to compenancy, what is the best method of confirm that a person is compentent?

Check their qualifications and training as well as references and projects they have completed.

What training courses needed specificly for commercial/domestic fire alarms?

Assuming you have Electrical training qualifications etc, you would need a qualification in BS 5839-1 and BS 5839-6 (both available from EAL Centres).

Who will police these acts as I understand it this only occurs when something goes wrong, i.e. fire when 'bodgit and scarper' have gone?

This in my opinion this will be the big challenge - Government will need to finance inspectors.

How do you determine whether an individual is a 'competent designer'?

Ask to see BS 5839-1 qualification and other training on design, and check work they have previously carried out.

There are a number of governing bodies for the fire industry offering training/courses. Is there a comprehensive list of approved courses for designers/installers/maintainers?

In England, the best place to look is on the Ofqual register on their website; this is the Government body that lists qualifications approved; if it is not on that list then it is not a Government approved qualification.

Where can you do fire alarm accredited training ?

Have a look at our website - Zeuss training or the EAL website.

Although there is clearly only benefits to formalised training, is there a handbook or easy reference tool that a designer or installer can refer to to mitigate many of the misunderstandings?

The best reference book for fire alarm systems is BS 5839-1:2017 and BS 5839-6, however I would strongly recommend formal training as well.

Where can I find training courses to gain level 2/3 fire alarm systems?

Have a look at our website - Zeuss training or the EAL website.

There are times when elements in the British Standard are not written in plain English or is difficult to interpret. Which is the best organisation to interpret a specific clauses in a BS such as BS 5839 or BS7671?

Most of the fire and electrical trade associations will have a member's helpline where you can ask any questions; failing that you can always write to the British Standards Institute for clarification.

Should fire safety standards be free?

It would be nice, but its highly unlikely the government will ever fund such a thing.

Given that BS5839-1/BS 54-4 are listed in the Statutory Instrument, does that determine that the standards are legally enforceable?

Potentially yes, where it will come into law is where in the future under the Duty Holders regulations a building has to comply with building regulations.

Where does lightning protection come into this concern for fire safety?

Sorry, not my field

Isn't the BAFE scheme designed to prove competence and training and assessment in exactly the way which is described as lacking?

Currently, if a company has a BAFE inspection, they will only look at the work the company takes them to and not a system installed by every member of staff.

BAFE rely on companies being ethical however we all know some are not, and every company is only as good as its worse engineer or technician.

Does an FIA accredited course come under regulation?

I would assume so, definitely for the theory knowledge.

The discussion has been around installation of fire detection and alarm system. What about a designer, who may be independent of the installer and also responsible for the quality control of the installation? There is also the role of the fire engineer in the design process.

This is no different - they will have to be able to prove competency with relevant current training and experience.

I am solely fire related at the minute, however, I am realising that I need to enhance my knowledge base with regards to BS7671 to ensure compliance with the Wiring Regulations side of any installation work I carry out.

I would strongly recommend all fire alarm installers to do the 18th Edition qualification and something like the selection and erection of electrical systems. BS 5839 is quite clear that installations should conform to relevant parts of BS 7671.