In the current international emergency, the fire industry is facing significant challenges. While fire prevention remains essential, the design, installation and maintenance of critical fire systems have come under unprecedented price and procedural pressures. This presents new and unforeseen challenges to an industry that was already burdened with the demand to deliver ever-more rapid and effective solutions to clients in all sectors. Doing nothing is not an option. In the short to medium term, we as an industry need to think smarter and plan more effectively to ensure that contracts can continue to be delivered on time and on budget, especially where residential installations and upgrades are concerned.
Costs need to be controlled, whilst time on site needs to be minimised and person to person contact kept to an absolute minimum, especially among high-risk groups such as the elderly or those with underlying conditions. That’s why the fundamental advantages of wireless fire technology can now benefit installers more than ever, as they allow systems to be installed with less fuss, minimal impact on the building’s fabric and less need for complex cabling, offering savings in both time and money.
Wireless technology is nothing new, of course. In the past 20 years, the concept of installing fire systems linked by radio technology has become mainstream across the fire industry, and the key advantages it offers have not changed. What we can now see is that, in the transformed economy we are now presented with, wireless solutions will help installers not only to comply with the standards but also deliver high performance systems safely, rapidly, and efficiently. Thereby offering peace of mind for the end client.
The Challenges of the New Economy
In an industry already facing challenges, such as the urgent need to upgrade systems in many residential blocks and the imminent introduction of BS8629-mandated evacuation support systems for high-rise residential buildings, we now face yet another potential impediment to progress that threatens to increase costs and delay projects. If the UK is subject to further lockdown measures, it also has the potential to delay urgent fire system upgrades and could even be a threat to the future of some installers.
The good news is that wireless fire technology can empower installers and specifiers, giving them a ready-made solution to overcome many of the key challenges we currently face. Wireless allows teams on site to work more efficiently, while reducing stress and upheaval for building occupants at the same time.
Let’s take a typical high-rise apartment, with one sounder and three detectors, as an example. With a wired system, there would be a requirement to wire each of these devices in place, potentially requiring access to ceiling voids and other inaccessible spaces, along with a need to make good and redecorate once the work is complete. This could take anything from several hours to days, and might even force the occupants to move out temporarily.
With wireless systems, all devices can be pre-programmed offsite, then installed and tested in minutes, resulting in minimal contact between the installation team and the occupant of the flat. This has always been a benefit of wireless systems, offering savings in both time and the cost of making good, but with COVID-19 to consider, the advantages are multiplied. By keeping contact and time on site to an absolute minimum, installers can offer enhanced peace of mind to building managers and tenants, which may make the difference between proceeding with a fire system install, or delaying it until the pandemic is over.
Wireless Had Already Gone Mainstream
Even before the challenges of 2020 emerged, wireless devices were becoming a default choice for many installers. Having traditionally been used in sites where wires cannot go, such as historic buildings, they are now being installed in all manner of sites from industrial boxes to schools. 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 cabling and all of the problems it can bring.
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. In addition to necessitating more time on site, a big issue right now, all of this generates uncertainty for fire professionals, end users and building users, as well as adding to costs.
The good news for installers is that 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 those 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 Gives You More Options
Wireless installations are rapid and painless. The exact devices required are defined in the initial survey, so the system can be pre-programmed off site and installed in less time. Disturbance to tenants is limited. If the Fire detection system is to replace an existing dilapidated out of date system then wireless systems can be installed while the existing fire system remains operational, the need for fire watches and temporary installations is all but eliminated.
Where an element of cabling is necessary, or where an existing system is being expanded or upgraded, 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. Advances in battery technology and LED indication mean wireless systems can run for many years without a battery change, a period that’s likely to extend even further in the future.
The result of these developments is that, even before the current challenges emerged, 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.
Planning Your Wireless Install
To maximise their effectiveness and the efficiency of the installation process, as well as ensuring that contact with building users can be minimised to reduce risk, the planning phase for a wireless system is crucial. It is worth choosing a supplier that is a specialist in fire devices that are wireless, not simply wireless devices, a subtle distinction that is crucial nevertheless.
The pre-installation survey should take 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, and will also certify the cost of the project, which means no hidden surprises later on.
The basic topology of the 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 detection and output devices sit. High-performance systems can grow from very small to very large, easily and reliably, their extent being limited only by installation standards or the number of devices that a fire panel can handle.
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, the best wireless systems, 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
Even before the recent world events, bodies such as the UK’s FIA (Best Practice Guide to Fire Safety) had acknowledged the value of wireless technology to address some of the key 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. Now you can add the prevention and limitation of COVID-19 to the myriad advantages of wireless technology.
Unlike some new technologies, always waiting for widespread adoption and acceptance in the industry, wireless fire systems are already mainstream and have been for many years. They were already becoming a default choice and now, with the events of 2020 forcing fire installers and their teams to limit the time they spend on site and in contact with building users, the adoption of wireless is only going to accelerate.