Legacy compatibility minimizes downtime

The Texas Capitol is heralded by preservationists for its 15th-century Italian architecture, but by 2010, its discontinued fire and life safety legacy systems had reached the end of their lifecycle and needed to be updated.


The Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas, was built in 1888 and is the largest of all state capitol buildings in gross square footage. It is second in total size to the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., yet nearly 15 ft taller. The Texas Capitol is heralded by preservationists for its 15th-century Italian architecture, but by 2010, its discontinued fire and life safety legacy systems had reached the end of their lifecycle and needed to be updated.

Koetter Fire Protection of Austin, Texas, was responsible for retrofitting the fire and life safety system throughout the main capitol building and the four-level, 667,000-sq-ft underground extension. This team faced the triple challenge of preserving a historically significant building, maintaining strict security procedures in a high-profile state facility, and minimizing downtime so there was no disruption to state business.

“You work by their schedule with the goal of ‘no impact to any of the operations of the state processes in the capitol,’” Koetter’s vice president Jason Ferguson said. “Also, the capitol systems have to stay online, so maintaining coverage is critical.”

Ferguson said that the compatibility between the old and new detection systems was the key to continuously maintaining appropriate coverage.

The replacement included the fire alarm control panel and smoke, heat, and duct detectors. Koetter replaced the legacy detectors while the capitol’s legacy Notifier fire alarm control panel equipment was still in place and swapped the Notifier Model 2020 fire panel with a new Model 3030 panel. Managing the replacement in phases met the capitol’s operations requirements and scheduling requests.

In all, Koetter installed about 1,300 System Sensor photoelectric smoke detectors (Notifier Model FSP-851), 50 FST-851R heat detectors, and 170 InnovairFlex duct smoke detectors, which work in conjunction with one another throughout the main building and the underground extension.

On April 30, 2010, the new fire and life safety system confirmed that it could deliver as promised. At 9:16 p.m., a System Sensor smoke detector went into pre-alarm mode in the reference library on the second floor of the north wing, immediately alerting the central monitoring office at the capitol. The office supervisor radio dispatched a trooper to investigate. Upon entering the library, the trooper smelled a strong, electrical burning odor and discovered soot around a ceiling-mounted light fixture that had malfunctioned.

John Nichols, fire marshal at the Texas Capitol, credits the System Sensor detector and the capitol's quick-acting security team for keeping the smoke event from escalating into a full-blown fire. “We are really glad we have these smoke detectors,” he said. “It's nice knowing that we can depend on the detectors.”

Information provided by System Sensor U.S.

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