Pumping plant fire protection system upgrade

Fire alarm and suppression system upgrade greatly simplifies fire alarm monitoring and control while enhancing life safety.

By Pete Smith, NOTIFIER April 26, 2013

Water is one of Arizona’s most precious resources, and the Colorado River satisfies much of the demand. To meet that demand, the 336-mile-long Central Arizona Project (CAP) aqueduct annually delivers approximately 1.6 million acre-feet of Colorado River water to cities, Indian tribes, and farms in central and southern Arizona. The CAP consists of 15 pumping plants that lift the water approximately 2,400 ft from the Colorado River to south of Tucson. 

When originally built in the 1970s, these pumping plants were protected by conventional fire alarm systems in compliance with the existing codes. As a member of OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), CAP felt the life safety of its employees warranted the expenditure to upgrade to advanced intelligent fire protection technologies.

Project scope

CAP selected the Chasse Building Team as its construction manager at risk (CMAR), which subcontracted with CopperState Fire Protection of Phoenix to provide solutions from NOTIFIER. 

“The existing systems were antiquated and with no access to replacement parts. They also did not meet UL 9th edition standards,” said CopperState General Manager Tim Snow. “CAP wanted to raise the level of safety for occupants within these plants through new technologies, like multi-criteria detectors, and improve its monitoring of systems across all plants, given the remote location of each.”

According to Telma Reyes, CAP contracting officer, the upgrade included “the installation of clean-agent fire protection systems, wet pipe suppression systems, fire detection and alarm systems, and an upgrade of existing CO2 systems. We modified existing damper systems and existing stairwell pressurization systems as well. Louvered doors were also replaced with solid panel doors. We prepared as-built drawings of all changes and additions.” 

The project design review and budget preparations began in April 2011. Project funding was approved by the CAP board in December 2011, and installation started in January 2012. The entire installation within the four plants was completed by December 2012. Installation in the next 10 plants is projected to start in 2014. 

CopperState retrofitted four plants, installing new addressable fire alarm systems with a NOTIFIER NFS2-3030 control panel at the head end of each system. As one of the fire industry’s largest capacity fire alarm control panels, it can support up to 3,180 addressable devices and includes a modular design for easy expansion and tailoring. 

Standardization of the systems across the plants was an operations and maintenance goal that was met by the versatility of the new systems, according to CAP Senior Project Manager Michael Pierce.

“We started out with a cookie-cutter design for each plant but quickly found out each has its own idiosyncrasies,” Pierce said. “You need to know your system and pay close attention to details, especially in the design review phase.” 

Although the purpose of the upgrade was improved life safety, protecting the pump motors, CAP’s biggest assets, was a major objective. Four of the CAP pumping plants located in central and western Arizona are of similar capacity and design. Each plant has 10 pump units of various sizes ranging from 1,500 to 9,000 hp each. Each unit is protected by its own high-pressure CO2 fire suppression system, which is monitored and controlled by either an NFS2-640 or an NFS-320 fire alarm control panel from NOTIFIER. All fire alarm panels are networked with the main NFS2-3030 panel to allow monitoring, response, and maintenance. 

Because these pumping plants were constructed with concrete walls up to 48-in. thick, rigid conduit raceways were installed by the CMAR for the fire alarm cabling used to transport high-speed data between the new NOTIFIER fire alarm control panels via the NOTI-FIRE-NET network. While each panel operates independently, this exclusive networking solution ties all panels together for easy monitoring of the entire network from one or multiple locations over hundreds of miles. The autonomous operations of each panel means the loss of one will not bring down the entire network, resulting in greater survivability. 

The plant’s motor rooms utilize NOTIFIER Acclimate Plus detectors, an intelligent device that uses a combination of photoelectric and thermal sensing technologies for increased immunity to false alarms. Unlike traditional intelligent detectors, the Acclimate Plus has a microprocessor in the detector head that processes alarm data. As a result, the device adjusts its sensitivity automatically, according to the environment, and without operator intervention or control panel. 

Intelligent devices, such as the Acclimate Plus detector, utilize the patented FlashScan communication protocol, which was developed to speed communication between control panels and analog intelligent devices. 

To protect the fire alarm controls in this industrial environment, CopperState customized industrial grade Hoffman NEMA 12 enclosures for many of the panels. The enclosures allow local maintenance staff to view alarm system status easily. They can simply open the NEMA enclosure and manually perform actions, such as alarm acknowledgement and reset. 

As a member of OSHA’s VPP, CAP facilities meet or exceed health and safety standards, and maintain injury rates well below National Bureau of Labor Statics rates. Recognition from the VPP encouraged CAP and CopperState to look beyond code mandates. 

“We required a lot of extensive testing and had to make a number of changes throughout the installation process,” said Craig Truax, CAP electrical controls engineer. “If you’re going to take on a project of this magnitude, having a contractor that’s competent and willing to go the extra mile to meet your requirements is important.” 

Monitoring and maintenance

One of the most evident changes was the improvement in communication of alarms between the CAP headquarters in Phoenix and the four upgraded CAP plants. 

The NOTIFIER ONYXWorks graphic workstation allows facility management and security personnel to view the status of all fire alarm and fire suppression networks throughout the four pumping plants. Through CAP’s existing Ethernet infrastructure, the ONYXWorks graphic workstation receives data from each plant’s fire alarm network 24/7 over IP, allowing CAP personnel to view all system points, alerts, and alarm events in real time. Utilizing the graphic workstation, each plant’s system can be controlled remotely as well. 

“Our facilities are so remote that coordinating the communications of alarms is key,” states Justin Larson, CAP lead project mechanical engineer. “By avoiding having personnel drive hours to check on a plant, this centralized system will save a lot of labor when it comes to monitoring and maintaining these systems.” 

In conjunction with the monitoring centralization of all plant fire protection networks, CopperState configured CAP’s ONYXWorks workstation to serve as a single source of control and supervision for the execution of:

  • Lockout/tagoutprocedures when maintenance is required on the 10 CO2 systems and two clean-agent fire suppression systems
  • Evacuation measures during a plant emergency which may not be fire alarm related
  • Monitoring and control of:
  • The stairwell pressurization system
  • All fire smoke dampers
  • The plant fire pump
  • Plant pump units 1 through 10 for motor differential operations. 

CopperState took full responsibility for the project designs with third-party oversight by Rolf Jensen & Associates, Inc., of Phoenix, which ultimately reviewed the project design documents prepared by CopperState and sealed them with its fire protection engineer. Considering this is a government project, CAP is authorized to act as its own authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). All fire alarms, sprinkler supervision, and CO2 systems were tested for compliance to NFPA 13 and NFPA 72 standards.

Potential advancements

The fire alarm and suppression systems at the remaining 11 CAP plants are scheduled to be upgraded over the next 4 years. Due to the simplification of fire alarm monitoring and control that CAP has gained through the NOTIFIER ONYXWorks system, CAP has planned for one workstation to be installed at each plant.

Once all 15 plants and headquarters are upgraded, CAP plans to broaden the scope of its NOTIFIER network to also serve as an emergency communications/mass notification system. Through the ONYXWorks platform, authorized CAP personnel will have the ability to broadcast messages to all or specific areas of a facility using audio and visual notifications, send distributed recipient messages such as e-mails and computer pop-ups, and even broadcast announcements for miles outside of the plant.

Pete Smith has nearly 40 years of experience in the fire alarm industry. As a strategic marketing manager for fire alarm and emergency communication systems manufacturer NOTIFIER, Smith’s work centers on new product development.