Massachusetts hospital installs NOTIFIER fire alarm system

The founding of Cooley Dickinson Hospital in 1886 in the town of Northampton, MA, was made possible by the bequest of $100,000 by Caleb Cooley Dickinson. Today, over one-hundred and twenty years later, Cooley Dickinson Hospital enjoys a sterling reputation as a locally governed, not-for-profit community hospital, providing professional and personalized care for a wide range of diagnoses. It was not long ago, however, that the hospital’s fire-alarm system was the patient in need of attention.

In 1997, a hospital expansion project that would add a 100,000-square-foot childbirth center to the existing facility could not be accommodated by the existing fire alarm system, which was installed back in 1984. Jim Aldridge, chief electrician at Cooley Dickinson for the past 30 years, explained, "It was limited to 32 zones and was already filled up. There was simply no room to add any other devices." The existing fire alarm panel was incapable of supporting the additional devices and subsequent protection that the new facility demanded. A newer, more modern system that could accommodate the current build-out, as well as any future expansion, was required.

Aldridge also noted that "We needed something that was easy to use since we do most of our own equipment maintenance. I wanted something my whole staff could readily adapt to without spending significant time on training."

After considering the options, Aldridge determined that an AM2020 intelligent fire alarm system from NOTIFIER, a leading manufacturer of commercial fire alarm systems and technology and part of the Honeywell (NYSE: HON) Life Safety Group, was not only best-suited to allow for current and future growth, it would also offer the best protection while still allowing Cooley Dickinson to keep within its budget.

The NOTIFIER AM2020 system, which came strongly recommended by the architectural firm working on the expansion project, was installed by Lee Audio ‘N Security, a NOTIFIER Engineered Systems Distributor for over 20 years that has installed and serviced fire protection systems for a number of healthcare facilities in the Western Massachusetts area. They also upgraded all of the existing ancillary devices, including smoke detectors, strobes, control relay modules, and speakers—in sum, approximately 1,000 total devices were replaced, all with NOTIFIER equipment.

Based on the success and positive experience of this first expansion project, "We knew that if we had any additional fire safety needs, we would turn to NOTIFIER," Aldridge said.

So in 2006, having just finalized plans for another addition—a new 126,000-square-foot building that included a surgery center, joint center, state-of-the-art laboratory, and an additional patient floor—Aldridge was determined to continue working with NOTIFIER to provide the fire protection. But now there were new requirements that had to be met.

"The local fire department had special regulations for a building of this size," he said. "One of the most critical was to have a graphical representation of all fire alarm devices, exits, and the like. We wanted to be sure to accommodate the request."

Richard Gore, president of Lee Audio ‘N Security, explained the requirement in greater detail. "The fire department wanted a campus-based graphical system to interact with," he said In addition, "The system also had to consist of UL 864 Ninth Edition listed products," he added, and "NOTIFIER worked diligently to expedite the regulatory approval process so we could acquire the listed products on time before the building was opened."

Based on these specifications, the NFS2-3030, an intelligent fire alarm control panel designed for medium-to-large-scale facilities was selected for the project along with ONYX FirstVision, a graphical touchscreen interface for firefighters. ONYX FirstVision connects to the fire alarm system and graphically displays the location of all fire alarm devices, water supplies, evacuation routes, access routes, fire barriers, gas, power and HVAC shutoffs, and chemical and structural hazards in the building. With ONYX FirstVision, responding firefighters can quickly identify the origin and migration of the fire along with anything that can help or hinder their response—exactly the kind of graphical interface that Cooley Dickinson and local fire officials had been looking for.

The fire alarm systems upgrade called for one NFS2-3030 panel to protect the entire hospital except for the new wing, which has an NFS2-3030 of its own. A total of about 400 ancillary devices complement the system in the new wing. What’s more, all patient rooms in the new wing are equipped with smoke detectors as well as visual notification devices (strobes). In fact, the hospital recently completed the addition of smoke detectors in all of the patient rooms throughout the entire facility.

"Having smoke detectors in each room is definitely the way the hospital industry is going right now," said Aldridge. "There’s no actual requirement to do this, but it’s coming out in the next version of the fire code, so we wanted to be ahead of the curve. Here, patient safety comes first, with staff alerting devices supporting that mandate. We felt it was worth the relatively small investment."

"The reliability of the system is obviously one of the key issues we took into account when expanding the facility, so system testing is critical to us," said Aldridge. "The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is very specific about testing requirements, and we adhere to them strictly. Every year we have the system and every individual device tested with our fire alarm vendor."

"With the NOTIFIER system we can get a printout of each device’s performance, which makes it particularly easy to see if there are any areas in need of troubleshooting. For example, we can clean every smoke detector that has reached certain level of sensitivity due to dust accumulation."

With the completion of the new wing in the spring of 2007, the entire hospital is now protected by NOTIFIER, as well as all of the hospital’s offsite facilities, including the MRI center and radiology center. And, according to Aldridge, the system gives Cooley Dickinson the option to expand well into the future.

"Basically, we can just about expand forever," he said. "We have no limits on our building, at least not from a fire protection perspective."

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