Canadian Consulting Engineer

Building Systems: St. John’s Health Sciences Centre Hospital

A fire in a large hospital is a potential nightmare for patients, staff and fire response teams. But thanks to modern life safety systems and well-trained hospital staff, hospital fire fatalities are ...

May 1, 2001   Canadian Consulting Engineer

A fire in a large hospital is a potential nightmare for patients, staff and fire response teams. But thanks to modern life safety systems and well-trained hospital staff, hospital fire fatalities are exceedingly rare. That’s quite remarkable considering that most hospitals are large, complex buildings with commercial kitchens, research laboratories, plenty of flammable chemicals and explosive gases — and with lots of people, some of whom are vulnerable in emergency situations.

“Smoke is our biggest worry,” says Keith Bowden, facilities manager of the 1,200,000 s.f. Health Sciences Centre in St John’s, Newfoundland.

“We have many patients whose respiratory systems are compromised and it doesn’t take much of a fire to generate an awful lot of smoke. And that smoke can travel a long way. Evacuating a hospital is a major challenge and takes time. It can’t be done without early detection and response.”

One of the big challenges is that the Health Sciences Centre has undergone many renovations since its opening in the mid-1970s. It is currently undergoing its biggest renovation yet with a $70,000,000 addition of the new 380,000-s.f. Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre.

Bowden points out that the new Janeway is being integrated into the main building, sharing HVAC, communication and other services. The life safety systems will be integrated as well, even though there are two systems: the existing six-year-old Edwards FCC system and an Edwards Systems Technology IRC-3 system for the new Janeway. “We were quite happy with the older system, which has worked well over many years but we didn’t want two separate systems,” Bowden says.

Nor could they afford or need to replace the old system. “The hospital wanted the entire life safety system to operate exactly the same as the old — with all the new features of the IRC-3,” says Wayne Stoyles, Edwards’ branch manager. “One of the things we did was to build a customized graphics panel that incorporates the new Janeway system but looks and works like the old panel did.”

Bowden strongly believes in avoiding confusion with clear simple information that prevents the wrong response during an emergency.

Another aspect of this “keep it simple philosophy” is the automatic activation of fire door closers, elevator homing, smoke evacuation and other auxiliary functions when a first-stage alarm is triggered. This approach may inconvenience people if it’s a false alarm, Bowden says, but “it’s much faster and enables us to focus on the fire alone.”

The Health Sciences Centre is unique in its long-standing use of automated voice messaging for each of the more than 150 detector zones during an alarm. Digital audio allows alarm tones to sound throughout the building, while pre-recorded messages give specific instructions customized for each zone. The speakers have a UL/ULC-approved strobe signal light, which reduces the need for additional visual signaling for the hearing-impaired.

The entire life safety system employs a distributed control network for fast alarm response and to keep all the lines of communication open during a fire. The system has more than 40 remote transponders or controllers, each capable of controlling multiple addressable circuits consisting of up to 250 devices such as detectors, manual pull stations, speakers and relays on a single pair of wires. These transponders are connected to each other and the main control panel in the fire room by Pyrotenax cable, which is copper sheathed and ceramic-insulated, with a two-hour fire rating.

Addressable devices, including Edwards 4D Signature Series detectors, are going into the new Janeway and into other areas like the emergency department and the intensive care unit. The 4D detectors incorporate photoelectric, heat detection, and ionization sensors to provide the earliest detection for any type of fire. It also helps that the hospital’s technical staff have been trained by Edwards to do maintenance and upgrades.

“We are confident the systems will work well together,” Bowden says. That, along with a full sprinklering of the building, leaves him with “considerable comfort” when it comes to fire emergencies anywhere in the Health Sciences Centre.

By Stephen Leahy

Article supplied by Edwards, Owen Sound, Ontario.

Consultants on the project are Health Care Design Consultants of St. John’s.


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