Since taking over the Scottish region in 2020, Robert Bruce – National Sales Manager for Hyfire – has specified wireless fire systems to protect no less than five Caledonian castles, which is ironic when you consider than his historical namesake, King Robert the Bruce, was famous for destroying them.
If there’s one thing we have no shortage of in Scotland, it’s castles. You can hardly swing a cat without hitting a fortification of one vintage or another, and on the face of it they may appear to have very little in common. In fact, however, nearly all of these buildings, real castles and Victorian re-creations, have traditionally presented a major challenge to the specifiers and installers of wired fire systems, both in terms of the cabling itself and achieving effective coverage throughout the building.
In fact, recent technological developments and the enhanced performance of wireless technology – such as the Hyfire Taurus range – mean that they are now more effective than ever at protecting these historic features of the Scottish landscape.
From thick walls to hidden voids and ornate ceilings, the challenges of installing a fire system in a castle – both logistical and aesthetical – are endless. Although it is possible to disguise fire panels and individual devices with panelling, colour coordination and other clever tricks, this takes time and costs money. Even running cables can be a major challenge in a listed building, where the tiniest interference in the fabric requires permission and supervision from the local council and Historic Scotland. In short, it’s a nightmare.
Wireless solved this problem almost two decades ago, allowing detectors, sounders and other devices to be placed in optimum locations without the need to get a wire to them. Wireless translators and expanders don’t need to be exposed to the atmosphere or human interaction, so they can be hidden away where they won’t be seen, with an overall reduction in cabling of up to 90%, and that’s before we even get onto the added convenience of programming and installing a wireless system.
Thanks to recent developments in maintenance schedules, battery life and overall performance, wireless fire devices are now more capable than ever, and this offers further benefits to the owners and managers of historic buildings, as well as the professionals looking after their after their fire systems.
For example, much more can now be achieved remotely in terms of testing and fault reporting, while longer battery life means that devices in hard to reach locations need to be physically accessed less often, with up to five years between battery changes.
For new systems, developments in the range and reliability of radio signals mean that devices can be located further away from the nearest wired translator, and expanders can be placed further apart. Thick walls are also less of a challenge than they were historically, with some wireless systems being able to broadcast signals over several hundred metres or more. This is advantageous because, in any historic building and especially in a castle, anything that can further reduce the need for cabling is a bonus and a money saver.
The best bit about wireless technology is the bespoke apps can be used to specify the entire system, pinpointing exactly where each device needs to go to offer maximum effectiveness and ensuring that, working together, the specified devices cover the entire building in the most optimal way. Once this is done, each device can be programmed offsite and installed in a few minutes, which is another major advantage of wireless, especially in historic buildings that depend on public access for revenue to support their upkeep.
Obviously, the introduction to this article is tongue in cheek, but it’s true that I get a great deal of job satisfaction from helping to place cutting edge fire technology. The last really serious fire in a Scottish castle was at Inverary in 1975, but incidents at Windsor Castle, Notre Dame and Clandon Park show that fires in historic buildings do still happen and they can be disastrous. An effective fire system may not prevent the fire – although the sprinkler debate will run and run – but a rapid alert can make the difference between a localised fire incident that is rapidly extinguished and complete disaster.
Here in Scotland, from giants like Edinburgh and Stirling to the relatively humble tower houses that dot the countryside, we have a rich heritage of castles that we need to safeguard for future generations, and fire systems have a genuinely significant role to play in that. If these can be installed with limited impact on the historic fabric and minimal need to ‘make good’, then all the better.
I think that end users and some installers only really come to realise the benefits of wireless fire technology once they have seen their first installation and seen the system in commission. As they use standard panels, such as the Advanced MxPro, wireless systems function in exactly the same way as their wired counterparts, so for historic buildings – and especially for castles – there really are only upsides.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that wireless devices are fully compatible with existing wired systems, so if want to expand or upgrade without starting from scratch, you can still reap the benefits of the wireless revolution. It really does pay to invest in the best when it comes to fire systems as, although Robert the Bruce may be long gone, fire is a very real and existential threat to our much-loved fortifications.