Westchester Fairfield Hebrew Academy
Fire Alarm Merges Emergency Communications for
Multi-Cultural Grade School Campus
The Westchester Fairfield Hebrew Academy, located in Greenwich,
Conn., provides education for 200 students ranging from kindergarten through the eighth grade. The Academy shares its 19-acre campus with the Greenwich Japanese School, which educates approximately 180 coeds in the same age range. The campus recently invested more than $3 million in capital improvements to restore 16 buildings and upgrade to the latest security and life safety systems.
All of the Academy’s buildings had existing fire alarm systems, but
parts for most were becoming obsolete making it harder and more
costly to upkeep. Each one operated independently, making it next to impossible to keep tabs on the campus’ numerous systems. To provide a high level of safety for its students, the Academy determined a major upgrade was necessary.
“It was costing too much to maintain,” says Ken Luhman, the
Academy’s Director of Facilities. “We needed an alarm system that
was flexible enough to handle all types of emergency situations, not
Integrated Protection Services, a local provider of commercial and
residential fire and security protection, had been installing security
systems throughout the Academy’s campus since 2006. When the
security dealer’s president, Art Greenwald, learned the school was
planning a fire alarm upgrade, he saw an additional service that could be added for his customers.
“After researching the various fire alarm lines out there, we decided
to become a Gamewell-FCI distributor in the spring of 2008,” says
Greenwald. “We believed in the product line, but had to have confidence the organization would support us, and they did all the way.”
According to Luhman, high safety standards set by the school and
backed by a recommendation from the town sent the Academy insearch of a combination fire alarm/emergency communications system (FA/ECS).
“They were looking for a flexible, emergency communications system
that would allow them, from any building, to initiate announcements
and monitor what is going on, campus-wide,” says Greenwald.
While the specifications of the system presented by Greenwald and
local Gamewell-FCI Sales Manager John Stofa fit the bill, school officials were most impressed by its networking and adjustable
“The E3 Series® is truly a networked system that shows you what is happening on the entire system,” says Greenwald. “Clearly, the selling point was the ability from any panel to broadcast announce-ments to the campus or individual buildings or whatever else
needed to be done from any panel in any building.”
The E3 Series Expandable Emergency Evacuation system, manufactured by Gamewell-FCI, utilizes a single pair of twisted copper wire or fiber optic cable to integrate all system nodes, including the fire alarm control panels. Less wire meant lower material and labor costs along with reduced harm to many historic and aging buildings’ architectural elements.
“Having the redundancy built-in where any panel could be a command post was a key point for the school,” says Stofa. “If you make one location your only command post, and it isn’t tenable, then you are vulnerable.”
The system offered by Integrated Protection Services is referred to as a more “survivable” system with its intelligence or data housed in
nodes through the network. If one or more panels or nodes are damaged, a distributed system such as this ensures the remaining components continue to operate properly.
With half the campus serving the needs of the Japanese School, the
ease of creating prerecorded emergency messages in any language was a valuable element of the Academy’s new system. “A wave file
can be recorded and loaded into the system right onsite,” states
Stofa. “And having a series of messages that clearly articulate information or instructions in one or more languages at your fingertips during an emergency can have a huge effect on the outcome of occupants’ actions.”
Another key element of Greenwald’s proposed system was a portable graphic workstation designed for security and facilities personnel and first responders to monitor the campus’ entire FA/ECS in real-time.
The FocalPoint® Mobile unit would provide floor-by-floor layouts of
every building on campus, complete with all system components and
an in-depth log of every event.
A tight timeline was set for the installation of seven E3 Series fire
alarm control panels throughout the campus. For approximately nine
weeks over the summer, the system was put into place and commissioned right before the start of the school year in the fall.
Approximately 650 devices are connected to the system campuswide,
including 150 notification appliances and 500 smoke detectors,
heat detectors, duct smoke detectors, beam smoke detectors and a
number of magnetic door holders. The same system also monitors
water flow in the sprinkler system and tamper switches on the sprinkler system valves.
An inherent feature of the E3 Series system is its ability to utilize
many common types of existing fire alarm wire, saving a substantial
sum of time and expense for retrofit jobs. “We are using less copper,
conduit, labor and material to do an installation. And given the system’s 625k baud LAN (local area network), it operates twice as fast as most of the competitive offerings available today,” says Stofa.
In addition to repurposing a large amount of wiring used by the old
systems, Integrated Protection Services ran dedicated fiber optic
cable between the buildings for networking purposes. Fiber is almost
impervious to severe weather conditions and surges from lightening
strikes, making it a great conductor for exterior applications.
“This system gave us the capability to connect using a new fiberstructured Ethernet, which eliminated some of our old inter-building connection problems,” exclaims Luhman. “I think this is the key if you have that technology in-place already, which most schools do.”
According to Stofa, fire alarm and emergency communications systems similar to the Academy’s are being installed in schools as well as hospitals, industrial facilities and various commercial buildings
nationwide. “No one wants to go through a tragedy like Virginia Tech
witnessed, but if they have to deal with a fire alarm, terrorism or
weather-related emergency, or need just general paging, this type of
combo system is an excellent solution,” says Stofa. “Rather than
functioning solely as a fire alarm system, it can also be employed as
a supervised means of emergency notification.”
With a code-mandated fire alarm as the backbone of this emergency
communications system, no room exists for fault tolerance. Issues
aside from emergencies, such as line breaks, panel tampering and
even dirty detectors are identified by the system and reported to the
central monitoring station immediately.
Requirements stated in the latest version of NFPA 72®: National Fire
Alarm and Signaling Code, also mandate supervised systems such as
this to have 24 hours of battery back-up and undergo regular testing.
“When we did our regular fire alarm tests and other drills, the system
performed fine,” says Luhman. “We also have the capability to do
individual building drills, which is a nice feature.”
A FA/ECS should be flexible enough to provide a custom fit for each
application while able to be modified easily for future expansion or
reconfiguration. Officials at the Westchester Fairfield Hebrew
Academy wanted the ability to send out emergency communications
to specific buildings and campus-wide. What they received was a
scalable system capable of delivering live paging and pre-recorded
messages to any pre-defined area of the campus, big or small.