As a facility safety director or fire protection manager, you have several types of fire training to offer to different groups of people.

First, there's your own staff, especially new people. You need to bring them up to the level of fire safety sophistication you require and desire.

Second, other groups that are or may become involved in life safety and facility protection must be brought up to speed. These hands-on workers, such as security professionals, building operators and maintenance staff, need to know not only how your fire systems work, but also how to operate them, even under emergency conditions.

Third, individuals with managerial responsibilities, such as supervisors, department heads and human resources personnel need to be informed. They must understand the fire systems in a general way, so they can reinforce your training with their staff and give levelheaded advice in an emergency.

Fourth, everyone who works in your facility needs training. This includes everyone from the hourly sweeper through every level and capacity of employee, right up to the top manager or CEO. You might want to begin with information as basic as a "four stages of fire" chart, which explains the merits of smoke detectors.

Know the system

An industrial fire safety system, installed with NFPA guidelines, protects building personnel from injury while at the same time protects the building, equipment, machinery and other assets of the business. Smoke and heat detectors, duct detectors and pull stations may be part of the system, as well as transmit/receive transmitters that monitor flow and tamper switches, kitchen hoods in the cafeteria, and the shutting down of air-handling units.

Sprinkler systems, loudspeakers and ADA strobes, emergency and exit lights and pagers with strategic personnel may also be part of the safety mix. In some facilities, the central panel also supports selective paging - for tornado warnings or other types of security situations.

Your staff should understand the function of all such equipment installed in your facility and have a good idea of how it operates. Depending on the size of facility and staff functions, some staff may need to be able to operate it themselves.

Know the drill

You or your security department will want to run unannounced drills, including checks that personnel know where to go and that the building has been vacated. In case of actual alarm, the security, service or maintenance group should have specific assigned responsibilities for reading the fire-alarm panel, going to the indicated location and assessing whether or not there is a fire. This, too, becomes part of the periodic fire drills.

Every area of the facility should have its own evacuation plan. A member of your staff or of a related group such as Human Resources should go over the plans with all new employees, pointing out egress routes.

In case of actual fire it will be the responsibility of the security or other assigned group to sectionalize, localize and isolate the source of threat if it is still manageable, such as controlling it with hand-held extinguishers. If the threat is assessed as beyond local control, the assigned group should be instructed to withdraw and prepare to offer guidance to the fully trained fire brigade or fire department as it arrives.

Testing and inspection

The group that will be responsible for actual operation of the fire control panel should be well trained in its use, including hands-on drills on the actual panels. Operators should also learn how to run sensitivity reports and other tests, print out logs, reset and check out problems.

This sort of training is often handled by a service representative from the vendor's local office. In case of complex problems, the vendor should be alerted to the problem and asked to send a technician to work with the in-house group. A service contract with the vendor may also be desirable.

Training seminars

Some vendors offer training seminars in the form of industry-generic educational presentations on how life safety equipment should be installed, operated and maintained. A seminar may cover from basic codes and standards through every level of a life safety system, culminating in a description of how a fully integrated networked voice system works, what the system should be able to do, and planning and considerations prior to a fire event.

SIDEBAR: Detection system helps firefighters help you

An often-expressed concern of firefighters is their unfamiliarity with the information made available to them from fire detection panels as they enter a building responding to a fire. Now through an international cooperative effort, a major step has been made creating an operator interface screen for fire detection systems.

The most critical information firefighters want to know as they rush to respond to an alarm includes: Where is the fire? Where are we in relation to it? How do we get from here to there? What will we find when we get to that location?

They also want to learn if the alarm was sent by a smoke detector, heat detector, waterflow detector or manual station. And, of course, it helps to know the types of hazards present and the people typically in that area of the building who may need help.

A better interface

Most fire systems today offer a short text message that describes the location of the alarm. With only 30 or 40 characters, it's usually abbreviated to the point where it can be very difficult to decipher. If the panel serves a large building, it may be virtually impossible to pinpoint the alarm location. In many cases, firefighters say they hate to waste time studying the uninformative screen message.

Clearly, response to a fire alarm is a stressful situation, underlining the importance of an easy-to-use interface. The new FireFinder generation of detection systems from Siemens Fire Systems brings generous amounts of understandable information into the average system without the cost of a PC. Using components that are the result of international cooperation between Siemens' units in Munich, Germany; Mannedorf, Switzerland; and Florham Park, N.J., the new intelligent fire detection system offers considerably more of the information that fire officials require.

The large, six-inch operator interface screen communicates in hundreds of clear, large-text characters eliminating the need to abbreviate, and displays up to five events simultaneously using standard hazmat icons. It uses simple graphic maps, and standard NFPA fire safety symbols provide information about the type of fire service equipment available in the alarm area.

The system provides recognizable "standard" symbols to indicate two main pieces of information: 1) "Fire Service Equipment" in the area of the alarm, showing sprinkler standpipe connection points, gas valve shutoffs and electrical panels; and 2) "Area Contain" - a second set of symbols/icons unique to the area of the fire alarm being reported that advises the responder using universally recognized NFPA 170 symbols what to expect, such as handicapped personnel, hazardous materials, etc.

Useful to all

Besides first responders, the operator interface accommodates several other levels of users. For building operators, everything is made easy and step-by-step, as close as possible to intuitive. Eliminating the need to know individual device addresses as the sole means of performing system maintenance simplifies the maintenance process navigation by building area, floor or even device messages.

For maintenance employees with limited training, a "details" button accesses information on possible wire break and system faults.

For well-trained service personnel, provisions are made for a variety of diagnostics accessible from a touch screen on the operator interface.

The new system stresses ease of installability and service, featuring a color coded-hardware layout and quick-disconnect wiring terminations. Intelligent device wiring is polarity-insensitive, and existing circuits can be used. System packaging is consistent in terms of standard modules and footprints, with ample room for wiring and removable terminals.

The system is available with and without digital emergency voice evacuation.