Fire, Life Safety

Case study: Medical center notification system update

This example will share the fire alarm notification system design approach and construction challenges and resulting solutions at a medical center.
By Richard A. Vedvik, PE, IMEG Corp., Rock Island, Ill. December 13, 2018
Figure 2: An aerial photograph shows the OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center campus in Peoria, Ill. Courtesy: OSF HealthCare

The OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Ill., has more than 600 beds and encompasses more than 3 million sq ft, with buildings spanning 100 years in age. As is expected, the fire alarm systems in each building and addition were of differing years and technologies. The system was interconnected and properly functioning, and most areas were using chime-, horn-, or bell-notification appliances.

The owner wanted to upgrade the entire fire alarm system in all areas to a modern voice notification system to match the newest building additions. This endeavor covers more than 2 million sq ft, and the construction spans 6 years. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2020.

To develop accurate bid documents, the IMEG Corp. team spent many evenings looking in every hall, room, closet, or shaft to document what was currently installed. This effort started in 2013 and was done in 2-D using CAD floor plans and life safety plans provided by the facility. These plans were kept up-to-date and accurately represented existing spaces, room names, room numbers, and fire ratings. The facility also kept records of smoke damper locations, HVAC system locations, and interface module applications.

Once a full walkthrough was completed, all of the observed or inferred existing initiating and notification devices were drawn. Meetings with the facility included all pertinent staff that oversee and maintain the fire alarm system. The decision was made to stay with the current fire alarm vendor, and they were engaged to provide device point lists and reports to increase the accuracy of the existing conditions.

Figure 1: A fire alarm control panel installation is shown and includes fiber-optic loop feeds and device feeds. These panels include battery capacity, voice amplification, and system controls. Courtesy: IMEG

The fire department was consulted, and the team discussed the best locations for the new fire alarm control units. The existing panels were typically in electrical rooms, which are difficult to find and access. Because the new panels have voice capability, the fire department preferred that the main fire alarm control unit (FACU) for each building be located near an entrance in a readily visible location. Due to the size of the buildings, additional remote panels were located such that device wiring did not span more than one floor.

The design includes a complete replacement of all notification devices with the exception of two newer building additions. All FACUs were upgraded and a fiber-optic loop was added to connect the panels together (see Figure 1). Most of the initiating devices were able to remain, but the team targeted legacy devices for upgrade and re-evaluated existing devices with the current occupancy of each space.

Implementing a new fire alarm system required careful planning to prevent a lack of coverage during construction. Installing new FACUs in each buildingĀ  and connecting the panels with a new fiber loop were the first project phase. This allowed any smaller remodel projects to move forward with the latest devices even if the rest of the building or area was scheduled for a later date. The remaining project phases are based on building separations, which mimic how the existing buildings are wired.

Figure 2: An aerial photograph shows the OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center campus in Peoria, Ill. Courtesy: OSF HealthCare

To minimize the physical impact to patients and staff, the construction strategy was to install a fully independent temporary fire alarm system that allowed for the existing system to be taken offline. This approach allowed for the removal of existing wiring and for the reuse of existing conduit. The temporary system was a combination of wired and wireless devices and replaced the code-minimum requirements for the floor. Once the upgrades were complete, the temporary devices were moved to the next floor. The project systematically worked from top to bottom, which followed the existing wiring methods. When a building was completed, that phase is complete, and work could begin in the next building on the list.

Jobsite observations include visual inspection of every device as well as verification of how each space is being used. One space that required a unique approach was the generator room. The space had 30-ft ceilings with older heat detectors that were largely inaccessible. The decision was made to move away from inaccessible devices and instead use fire-detection cameras. These cameras provide a more reliable detection method and also offer early detection that, when coupled with a CCTV system, allows the facility to quickly react to an incoming alarm (see Figure 3).

Because the wiring is almost completely replaced, and every device has been reviewed and either revised or reprogrammed, the facility will have incredibly accurate drawings. One item that came up was the level of detail that the as-built drawings should include. The team decided that as-built drawings should include point-to-point wiring diagrams that accurately represent installed conditions. The newest notification appliances are addressable, which allows for a star topology. This approach saves wiring, labor, and disruption to the facility, but it introduces points of interest to the facility. Documenting locations where junctions are made is important, and this project allowed for that level of detail. Overall, the project has been going well and the entire team is a good example of cooperation and teamwork.

Figure 3: The fire-detection camera installation is shown on the wall of the generator room along with the associated monitor interfaces. Courtesy: IMEG

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Richard A. Vedvik, PE, IMEG Corp., Rock Island, Ill.
Author Bio: Richard A. Vedvik is a senior electrical engineer and acoustics engineer at IMEG Corp. He is a member of the Consulting-Specifying Engineer editorial advisory board.