I recently found a sizable discussion on NFPA’s LinkedIn site concerning horse stable fire detection. The initial request was straightforward: “I need to find the best way for fire detection in stables.” Like a lot of similar discussions, many of the suggestions went immediately to the type of detection that might be used — in this case early detection, the better to protect high-value animals. For many stables, this would probably make sense.
But the discussion also illustrated how detection solutions can sometimes get ahead of themselves, without a clear idea of what the principal goal should be for the protection. Before addressing specific types of detection and which one might provide the best protection for a horse barn, or for any other building, you need to know what you want to accomplish. It’s all in how you ask the question.
Take the horse stable, for example. If the fire protection goal is to provide early warning to protect the horses, who will respond to save the horses once the alarm sounds? You must remember that “detection” does not provide “suppression.” Will that response remain the same every day? Where will the person or persons who will respond to the alarm be located during the day or night? Do they intend to fight the fire? If the response time raises a concern, it may make sense to interconnect the detection with some form of suppression to control the fire while the animal rescue takes place.
If the people on site respond promptly but the local fire department’s arrival will take some time, you should evaluate other non-detection related subjects. For example, when the detection system actuates, should the doors to the horse stalls open automatically? Should notification appliances exist inside the barn? (In this case, you’d probably answer “no,” since the noise might affect the horses and impede the rescue of the animals. But you might consider local notification or outside notification appliances.) Should the fire alarm system cause the lights in the barn to automatically illuminate to allow for easier rescue attempts?
NFPA 150, Fire and Life Safety in Animal Housing Facilities, provides explicit guidance on these exact choices. Recognizing that one size does not fit all, NFPA 150 notes in an annex that “consideration should be given to animal reactions and undue stress caused by audible sounds or flashing strobes.”
As you consider the type of detection to use, you need to determine how to ensure the reliability of operation. Will you accept false alarms, or can you accommodate the environment with a detection system that will perform well under the adverse environment normally found in barns? NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, provides some guidance on environments that will affect detection, but the obvious ones in this example include moisture, dust, the presence of hay, and temperature, to name a few. The detection choice may also change if the barn stores combustible materials such as hay. You also need to examine what other hazards may exist in the barn. Is the barn heated? What sources of ignition exist in the barn? What size fire do you want to detect?
All of these questions help frame the answer to that important larger question: What is the purpose of the detection system? Installing any detection without thinking through the end result can lead to costly failures. Having a clear sense of your principal goal will help you determine the right detection solution, as well as the optimal application and operation of that system.
Once you know that goal, remember that, while NFPA 72 does not require the installation of fire alarm systems in buildings, you must follow the requirements contained in the code when you decide to install a system.
Wayne D. Moore, P.E., FSFPE, is a principal with Hughes Associates.