High-Rise Fire Safety for High-Risk Patients

The new maternity and neonatal intensive care facility at the Texas Children’s Hospital boasts a bevy of fire protection equipment, from alarms to smoke detectors to control panels to speaker/strobes and more.

Texas Children’s Hospital recently added a new high-rise facility, the Pavilion for Women, to its five-building campus in the heart of the Texas Medical Center in Houston.  The state-of-the-art towers, designed to care for the highest risk mothers and babies, offer a wide range of family-centered maternity care with all of the latest technologies and access to world-renowned experts.

The new pavilion is essentially two towers connected at the base: one that is 15 floors and the other that is six floors. The building is an entire city block wide and two football fields long. It is packed with cutting-edge NOTIFIER fire alarm technologies, including two NFS-3030 fire alarm control panels, 538 smoke detectors, 248 duct-mounted detectors, 1,427 speaker/strobes and 111 fire fighter telephone jacks.

“For us, it all goes back to patient safety,” says Lonnie Rinehart, the hospital’s plant operations manager. “On the eighth floor, we have babies in neonatal intensive care that literally fit in the palm of your hand. They can’t go anywhere during a fire alarm — it’s all a part of what we do to protect them.”

Local life safety systems specialist FireTron Inc. engineered and installed the pavilion’s fire alarm system and will perform the ongoing service, testing and maintenance of the systems protecting the hospital’s patient care facilities and other buildings.

Detectors Scan for Signs of Danger
Early detection of smoke and fire, and the virtual elimination of false alarms were requirements for the new pavilion. Nearly all rooms were fitted with self-regulating detectors that examine a combination of environmental factors. Acclimate Plus detectors, produced by System Sensor, scan for the visual signatures of smoke and fire, as well as unusual spikes in room temperatures.

Given the ever-changing needs of patients and the equipment utilized within this facility’s rooms, each detector’s ability to automatically adjust its own sensitivity settings based on slow, minor changes within its surrounding environment has all but eliminated intrusive false alarms.

“By going to this newer system, we’ll use more durable [detector] heads that don’t activate with the same thing,” says Rinehart. “We keep fire protection around our patients at all times, we don’t alert the fire department with nuisance calls, and business operations continue without needless interruptions.”

Some rooms where aerosolizing treatments were used for respiratory treatments have had issues with older detectors because the aerosol would set them off, says Rinehart.

Given this history with the facility’s older systems, FireTron equipped all respiratory treatment areas with IntelliQuad detectors, which are designed by System Sensor to detect and examine four major signatures of fire: smoke, heat, infrared and carbon monoxide. Six levels of sensitivity enable these specialized detectors to be programmed to provide accurate detection, tailored to a particular environment within facilities like hospitals, where early detection is essential.      

FireTron’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing Bob Kaczmarek says there were a few overarching goals inherent in the pavilion installation.

“The main goal is to reduce false alarms and the other is to increase speed of response,” he explains. “It’s not easy to get patients out of a high-rise hospital quickly. You don’t want that to happen in a hospital unless it’s the real deal — unless you know for certain that there’s a fire. And then they always want to know where the fire is, where the alarm is coming from — not just which tower, but they want to know the room it’s in, the actual physical location.”

An addressable fire alarm system provides the ability for staff to pinpoint location of a fire.

“If you’ve got 10,000 feet of corridor, you’re immediately able to narrow down the exact location of the fire,” says Rinehart.

When a smoke detector goes into alarm, it’s easy to spot, too. Rinehart explains that detectors have two red LED lights that “glow nice and bright” when they’re in alarm.

The goal is to respond to a situation and arrive at the location quickly. If a detector in a patient’s room alerts, the nurse station is alerted, so the nurses can get right on scene.

System Allows for Integration, Easy Upkeep
There is a degree of integration that’s been built into the system at the Pavilion for Women beyond that involving the nurses’ call stations described earlier.

“Our system is interfaced with all the security doors in the building — if there is a fire condition in the building, or on a floor, the system unlocks doors on the fire floor, and floors above and below,” says Kaczmarek.

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