Smoke Detection Technology
The latest research in support of the next generation.
NFPA Journal®, September/October 2008
Fire detection technology is one of the fastest-evolving areas of fire protection. Advances in sensors and electronics are applied every day in innovative ways to improve our ability to quickly detect fire and the products of combustion and to effectively notify occupants. NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm Code®, is consequently in a state of rapid evolution as its technical committees work to develop requirements related to performance and installation of these new systems in new and challenging fire environments.
The Fire Protection Research Foundation has recently conducted a number of research projects in support of this evolution, including:
New Technologies and Unique Applications: The Foundation has studied the performance of strobe systems in big box spaces, video imaging technology in industrial spaces, carbon monoxide detectors in commercial spaces, and a range of new and emerging detection technologies in roadway tunnel environments;
Spacing Requirements in Unique Configurations: Four studies were undertaken to explore appropriate spacing for smoke detectors in spaces with complex ceilings, including sloped ceilings and ceilings with deep beams and beam pockets;
Notification Effectiveness of Alarm Signals: A series of studies on the ability of conventional and innovative alarm signals to awaken the elderly, the hard-of-hearing, and the hearing-impaired and to intelligently notify large groups in commercial settings provided new insights on the optimum signal for these at-risk groups;
Characterizing Smoke to Enhance Detector Performance: Two studies—one to characterize the smoke from residential materials and the second to predict the ability of detection systems to respond to small, developing fires—are setting the stage for enhancements in smoke detection for today’s fire environments.
Results of all these studies can be found on www.nfpa.org/foundation.
With this work and the work of others as background, the Foundation is embarking on two new projects to aid in the development of the next generation of detection and signaling systems. These projects are based on the concept that smoke detection systems operate as part of an overall fire-safety timeline that includes ignition, flame and smoke spread, fire protection system initiation, occupant notification, and occupant egress.
The first project will focus on the early stages of fire detection, bringing together the studies on the characterization of smoke and improved smoke transport prediction methods with aspects of the egress environment and escape time to develop performance metrics for the next-generation detector.
The second project focuses on signaling to transfer knowledge from other disciplines to the concept of the intelligent fire alarm signal, both to better inform building occupants and to integrate fire and security signaling.
The focus of the Foundation’s work is to enhance the technical basis of NFPA codes and standards so that they can appropriately reflect the contributions that our new understanding of today’s and tomorrow’s products and systems can make to fire safety. The Foundation’s Fire Detection and Alarm Research Council provides an opportunity for the community to participate in planning and conducting these research programs. To participate, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kathleen H. Almand, P.E., FSFPE, is the executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation.