Project Profile: Hospital complex cultivates healthy fire protection

Over the course of 10 years, St. Peter’s Hospital has updated its fire and life safety system.

By Beth Welch June 6, 2014

Project name: St. Peter’s Hospital

Project type: Addition to existing building, existing building retrofit, new construction, system overhaul

Engineering Firm: Alarm & Suppression, Inc.

Building type: Hospital/health care facility; Office building

Location: Albany, NY

Timeline: 2005-2014

A decade ago, St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, N.Y., started a $259 million campus-wide modernization project. The three-phase project included ongoing renovations to its main complex, which comprises basically three buildings ranging from six to 11 stories in height.

The most significant part of the project involved the construction of a six-story Patient Care Pavilion with 24 operating rooms (OR) occupying two floors. One of the ORs is a new hybrid OR—one of only 29 in the world. Other add-ons included modern patient care units, a pharmacy, a new endoscopy suite, and a food court. The new Pavilion’s addition was going to necessitate the entire complex bring its fire protection up to meet current standards.

Building details

The three-phase project included ongoing renovations to its main complex, which comprises three buildings ranging from six to eleven stories in height. The most significant part of the project involved the construction of a six-story Patient Care Pavilion

Project details


  • Small infrastructure upgrades within main hospital complex to ready it for upcoming renovations and additions.


  • Construction of new 1,500 car parking garage.

2007-2008: Fire Alarm Phase I

  • Main hospital building complex renovated 110,000 sq ft of interior space, included construction of new operating rooms and laboratories
  • Added field devices to existing main complex’s fire alarm system to adequately protect renovated spaces
  • Added electrical hi-yard to handle increased power needs.

2009-2011: Fire Alarm Phase II

  • Upgraded two legacy NFS-2020 fire alarm control panels with latest ONYX Series NFS2-3030 panels
  • Construction of new, six-story Patient Care Pavilion with installation of NFS2-3030 fire alarm system to cover entire building
  • Created fire protection network connecting systems within Pavilion and main hospital complex
  • Upgraded hospital’s Professional Office Building’s protection with its own NFS2-3030 system that is tied to the network
  • Upgraded older voice evacuation systems to Digital Voice Command systems in all three facilities – the main complex, Patient Care Pavilion, and Professional Office Building
  • Added ONYXWorks graphic workstation to monitor and control network.

2011-2014: Fire Alarm Phase III

  • Interior renovations to 220,000 sq ft of hospital’s main building complex requires the addition of one NFS2-3030 fire alarm control panel.

Systems transplant

Backward compatibility was the key feature that enabled such a smooth swap-out of control panels throughout the hospital’s existing buildings, with each tying in seamlessly with hundreds of field devices, such as detectors, pull stations, and annunciators. Brad Nelson is the project engineer for Alarm & Suppression Inc. who has overseen and engineered all phases of the hospital’s fire alarm work, in addition to serving as its alarm service provider.

“We’ve worked on other long-term projects with NOTIFIER equipment, and upgrading to newer, more advanced technologies has not been a problem,” said Nelson. “This line is engineered to handle a smooth transition from old to new, which ensures a long-life for the owner’s investment.”

Dan Machabee, St. Peter’s Electrical Supervisor, was surprised at the ease of the systems’ changeover. “We were up and running on the new system hours before anticipated each day.”

The voice evacuation systems upgrade to NOTIFIER’s Digital Voice Command (DVC) system allowed the hospital to add nearly 100 additional pre-recorded messages and more speaker zones throughout all buildings. The goal was less confusion, better audio clarity, and a quicker implementation of the emergency actions for which hospital personnel train.

To provide authorized personnel a view of campus-wide fire alarm network conditions and give first responders control of the smoke purge system, network and smoke control annunciators were installed at the hospital’s main complex lobby entryway.

“I thought we had it good with the previous system,” exclaimed Machabee. “The features and the additional equipment that were installed since the time when alarm and suppression first arrived have greatly improved this facility’s fire alarm layout, expandability and coverage to the point of near perfection.”

As for any upgrades to existing detectors and other initiating devices, the hospital facilities staff were able to handle those. NOTIFIER systems perceive each new device as a data packet and accepts the information without having to take the system off-line for reprogramming. Such a seamless transition saved considerable labor, cost and business down-time.

Working closely with Machabee was key to this project’s smooth transitions, stated Nelson. “Keeping the dialog open allowed the fire alarm system to be tailored to meet any needs related to maintenance and the electrical department’s needs.”

A healthy view

The fire protection transplant came with a powerful, PC-based graphic interface to simplify fire alarm monitoring and maintenance. Stationed in the hospital’s well-staffed security room, the ONYXWorks graphic workstation from NOTIFIER is programmed to display written and visual information on five basic signals: fire alarm, supervisory alarms, trouble signals, maintenance alerts, and disabled devices. When an alarm signal is received, the workstation’s monitor automatically zooms into a 3-D floor plan to show the affected area and the device in alarm.

Information specific to the alarm and location has been programmed to display immediately, which can include emergency contacts, the area’s contents, and occupants with special needs. Even text files, audio messages, images, and videos can be linked to any fire alarm point capable of causing a signal. In most cases, this additional information is used to provide ONYXWorks users a better comprehension of the affected location.

The graphic workstation has also been programmed with special functions to help Machabee’s team service various field devices. Machabee refers to the ONYXWorks PC as a spoiler. “It is now extremely easy to locate devices to enable/disable for hot work permits and maintenance issues.” 

Detection and alerts

The new smoke detectors throughout St. Peter’s are pre-programmed to send a maintenance alert or go into alarm at any one of nine alarm threshold levels. When one of the detectors reaches a pre-determined level indicating an “alarm signal” is imminent, the workstation operator is given an audible signal while the individual device is automatically displayed on the screen. Simultaneously, ONYXWorks sends an email to eight individuals responsible for inspecting the device and area in question. This advance warning allows the trained staff to prevent unnecessary disruptions to the quality health care critical to St. Peter’s mission.

“My favorite feature is the e-mail notification function, because no matter where I am in this large facility, if an alarm condition happens, I am able to respond to the exact location so much faster than without it,” said Machabee. 

The hospital’s maintenance and electrical staff knew they had taken a big step forward when they received their first email message, indicating a detector was nearing its alarm threshold, and were able to respond immediately.

The design of this sophisticated fire protection project had to meet requirements prescribed by each of these 13 bodies of NFPA codes:

  • NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code

  • NFPA 101: Life Safety Code

  • NFPA 1: Fire Code

  • NFPA 99: Health Care Facilities Code

  • NFPA 13: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems

  • NFPA 70: National Electrical Code

  • NFPA 80: Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives

  • NFPA 90A: Standard for the Installation of Air-Conditioning and Ventilating Systems
    NFPA 90B: Standard for the Installation of Warm Air Heating and Air-Conditioning Systems

  • NFPA 92: Standard for Smoke Control Systems

  • NFPA 92A: Standard for Smoke Control Systems Utilizing Barriers and Pressure Differences

  • NFPA 92B: Standard for Smoke Management Systems in Malls, Atria, and Large Spaces
  • NFPA 204: Standard for Smoke and Heat Venting