It is critical for all healthcare facilities to have in place an intact fire alarm and sprinkler systems. Healthcare facilities are at a greater risk of experiencing fire incidences because of the highly inflammable substances that are used in hospital laboratories. Automatic fire alarm systems have either smoke or heat detectors that sense the presence of the smoke and heat respectively and sound the alarm to alert occupants to evacuate.
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They are connected to the fire department, where the alarm signal is simultaneously sent for immediate response. Fire detectors must be located in all the areas of the hospital to enhance their effectiveness. Sirens, bells, or horns can relay the alarm signal, and need to be strategically located in the hospital where the signals can be heard or seen with ease. The sprinkler system should also be automatic in its response to fire outbreaks. The automation is effected by the valve ends at each pipe opening.
The valves are made of heat-sensitive materials. In the presence of heat, the valves expand and the water contained in the pipes is released immediately. Sprinkler systems should at all times have water within the pipe networks. The system is highly effective as only valves near the heat will open up to release water, while the others will remain intact.
The fire safety system should be constantly checked to repair damages and failures. Workers in the healthcare facility must also have appropriate training on how to react in the event of a fire outbreak. Trainings should also involve informing workers on ways of reducing fire accidents within the facility.
Health care facilities, just like any other institutions and facilities require proper arrangements and systems in place to help cushion them from the threat of fire outbreaks. Healthcare institutions often include laboratory tasks, which involve working with flammable liquids as well as other hazardous substances.
These conditions and substances of operations increase fire threats faced by the institutions. This paper seeks to discuss fire safety within the healthcare system, with particular focus on alarms and sprinkler systems that are used to enhance safety.
Discussion of Subject
Fire Alarm System
A fire alarm system installed within a healthcare facility must be able to accomplish the four most important functions or reactions. Firstly, it should be able to detect fire presence. Once the detection is done, it should accomplish the rest of the obligations, which include notifying the occupants, notifying the fire department, as well as be able to perform other safety functions such as releasing the magnetically held smoke doors (Gagnon, 2007).
The fire detection mechanism of the alarm system mainly uses special smoke or heat detectors. The specially designed heat detector will sense the development almost immediately when the heat within the vicinity of a healthcare facility increases as a result of fire outbreak.
The smoke detectors also operate in the same fashion, whereby they sense when smoke fills the area. Smoke detectors must be placed on some raised location, possibly on the ceiling, to be able to speedily detect smoke in the event of a fire incident.
Fire alarm systems can either be designed using ionization smoke detectors or photoelectric smoke detectors. Healthcare facilities should consider using alarm systems made of both types of detectors because they assure greater safety for the patients (Solomon, 2013). This suggestion is based on the fact that ion detectors have a faster sensing ability of a flaming fire, while photoelectric detectors are highly efficient in detecting smoldering fire.
It is important that both types of detectors are installed to ensure maximum security and safety because a healthcare facility is at risk of facing any of the two fire types (Solomon, 2013). The location of the fire detectors on the healthcare facility should be done such that a greater area is covered in order to increase their efficiency in operations.
Once the effective heat and smoke detectors sense the presence of a fire, the fire alarm system should produce enough sound as a means of attracting the attention of occupants. This signals the fact that an evacuation mission is necessary. Several apparatus can be used to relay the alarm situation, either simultaneously or separately.
These apparatus include sirens, horns, bells, as well as stroboscopic lights together with speakers. The sound and visual alert appliances are equally of great importance as the fire detectors. In essence, their location should also be as strategic as possible in order for everyone within the facility, and in some instances even those in the vicinity, to be alerted of the impending danger.
The system also automatically notifies the fire department. This should be done as speedily as possible in order to minimize any damages or losses that may result from the fire (Mills & Lathrop, 2013). Healthcare fire alarm systems should be as highly effective as possible, being able to detect any fires while still relatively small. This is important because it would in turn allow the fire department ample opportunity to get to the facility and extinguish the fire before its spread spirals out of control.
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The alarm system has to be connected directly to the fire department. Such a connection will reliably help in notifying the fire department of the fire incident at the healthcare facility.
It is important that the fire alarm installations at a healthcare facility should satisfactorily meet the recommendations set by the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (NFPA 72). Equally important recommendations that are worth being observed are the National Electrical Code (NFPA 70), which oversees the whole fire alarm system installation (Mills & Lathrop, 2013).
The fire alarm system, as already pointed out, mainly focuses on alerting occupants of the need to evacuate. The healthcare fire alarm system does not need to be interlinked with the automatic sprinkler system.
This is because in the event that the detectors fail to sense the heat or smoke in good time, it means the sprinkler system will delay in releasing water to extinguish the fire. This mainly happens where the fire detectors’ locations are secluded from the fire. Such delays may cause wanton destructions, including loss of lives, because it means emergency evacuation will also be delayed.
Automatic sprinkler systems operate on their own without being manned by humans. They have the mechanical ability to release water and extinguish a fire early enough before it grows out of control. The sprinkler system wholly relies on water as the main mechanism for putting out the fire (Shannon, 2004).
Experts advise on the need to ensure that sprinkler systems are maintained in what they term as ‘wet pipe installations’. This describes the fact that the sprinkler pipes ought to have water in them at any given opportunity. The sprinklers are fitted with special valves that are designed using materials that are good conductors of heat.
This makes the valves highly sensitive to heat, thus making them to open up immediately the temperatures in the surrounding environment rise. The valves are made in such a way that they have minimum temperature levels, beyond which the valves are forced to open and release the water contained in the pipes.
The mechanism prevents the flow of water until the temperature in the environment surrounding the sprinkler attains the set operating temperature for the sprinkler head (Monikowski & Terry, 2005).
The operation of each sprinkler head is not linked in any way to the others. This implies that if sprinkler 1 is releasing water, it does not mean that sprinkler 2 and 3 will also be automatically releasing water. Instead, this mechanism means that only the sprinkler heads that are close to the fire will open up to release water, while those that are not close to the fire will not.
The working mechanism also ensures the maximization of the water pressure above the area under fire. By the sprinkler heads operating consecutively only after experiencing rise in temperature or heat, the entire system controls against widespread wastage of the water already in circulation in the sprinkler distribution network.
During instances of fire accident, a sprinkler system will effectively utilize the water, thus causing less damage and wastage compared to what a Fire Service will do using hoses. The biggest advantage of a sprinkler system is its effectiveness in containing and eventually putting out fire. The sprinkling system is more effective because of its potential to discharge water almost instantly, provided there is rise in temperatures occasioned by the heat.
Health facilities have patients who are sick, with others are too frail to move with speed in the event of a fire (Shannon, 2004). Thus, an automatic fire extinguishing system provided by the sprinkler system will fully be effective in containing fire outbreaks as soon as the fire begins. In comparison, relying on Fire Service is less effective because of the obvious time that such a service would require before reaching the premises.
An automatic sprinkler system does not rely on the fire alarm activation before it can begin to release water. The automatic sprinkler system installed in healthcare facilities should not be linked to the alarm system.
Doing so subjects the entire response mechanism to certain failures and delays, which eventually reduces effectiveness in as far as fire safety is concerned. It is critical to state, therefore, that a linked up system is not specified for consideration in a hospital or general healthcare installation (Monikowski & Terry, 2005).
Fire safety for healthcare systems is paramount because healthcare facilities are at a higher risk of experiencing unprecedented fire outbreaks. Hospitals and indeed healthcare facilities often establish laboratories that are used for conducting research and ascertaining the health complications that afflict patients. Such laboratories use chemicals and other substances that are very harmful and dangerous because of their high flammability (Colling & York, 2010).
Most hospitals have worked towards ensuring that they meet all the safety requirements needed to ensure safety and security. In particular, the fire safety regulations govern the safety procedures and requirements that all healthcare facilities are required to adhere to (Mills & Lathrop, 2013).
Although hospitals have installed working fire alarm and sprinkler systems, there are instances where such installations may fail to work to the expectation. Apart from ensuring that the security mechanisms and the necessary apparatus are in place, it is important for the management of healthcare facilities to always conduct maintenance and repairs of the system. Scheduled maintenance and repairs should be done to ensure that the safety system is operational.
It is important that fire safety drills should also be conducted as a way of ensuring that the organization’s readiness in tackling fire accidents is effective. Such drills should include evacuation exercises and response to emergency. Fire incidents are highly unpredictable and it may not be easy for the management of a healthcare facility to predict adequately how safe the organization could be.
However, one aspect that is more certain is the need to always ensure that the organization is fully prepared to tackle such an eventuality (Mills & Lathrop, 2013). It is also critical to train members of staff on the basics of handling a fire incident and how to minimize chances of such accidents occurring.
Healthcare facilities should have in place an elaborate fire safety system in order to enhance the level of preparedness in tackling eventual fire incidents. The most important fire safety installments required in a healthcare facility include a fire alarm system, as well as a sprinkler system. The fire alarm system operates by detecting fires through sensing smoke or heat presence. The detection automatically sounds the alarm, which alerts occupants on the need to promptly evacuate the building.
The alarm system is also connected to the fire department, prompting immediate response in case of an emergency. The sprinkler system, on the other hand, should be automatic by having heat-sensitive valves that open up and release water in case there is fire directly above the valves.
Colling, R., & York, T. W. (2010). Hospital and healthcare security. Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann
Gagnon, M. R. (2007). Design of special hazards and fire alarm systems (2nd ed.). Albany, NY: Delmar Learning
Mills, G., & Lathrop, J. K. (2013). The Joint Commission/NFPA life safety book for health care organizations. Oakbrook Terrace, IN: JCRINC
Monikowski, F., & Terry, V. (2005). Advanced fire sprinkler systems. Buildings, 99(12), 58-59
Shannon, J. M. (2004). Fire protection guidelines for nursing homes. Nursing Homes, 53(5), 40-42.
Solomon, R. E. (2013). Fire and life safety inspection manual. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning