Editor, IFSEC Global

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Adam Bannister was Editor of IFSEC Global from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam is also a former Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
October 7, 2014

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Fire Detection Cameras: The Perfect Solution for Open-Air Fires?

spotfireOpen-air fires, especially at recycling centres but also at stables, marinas and car parks, are often out of control by the time fire services arrive following a smoke alarm alert.

David Bendall, business development manager at fire-detection specialists Spotfire, explains why he thinks he has a more effective solution.

IFSEC Global: What are the benefits of the video image detection technology that you use?

David Bendall: First and foremost it can be used internally and externally, and an external fire is not a clever thing.  Most devices out today are designed to work in an encapsulated airspace, whereas a camera can work externally.

It can also be used inside a number of integrated systems and can replace your current security cameras, so you get the best of both worlds without huge expense.

It can also be bolted onto 5839 part 1 systems, which is covered in the recommended installing standard and can be used as additional means of detection.

The speed of detection is also important. All other forms of detection require can take five minutes to detect smoke. A camera will pick up smoke or flames in about 10-15 seconds.

Now that is very important because of austerity. A lot of services have been cut with fewer fire stations in town centres, so they often have to travel further, so you need the earliest possible warning to save the building.

Fire services quite rightly were designed to save life in the first instance. Buildings are second choice, but the insurance industry gets a bit upset about this.

They now require as much of the structure to be saved as possible because of the astronomical costs involved. That’s why cameras could be very useful.

IG: Which particular markets is this technology likely to appeal to?

DB: The three main means of detection are designed to work internally, but we now have a big problem with external fires, in the open, such as at recycling areas. One fire in Swindon lasted eight weeks.

The same goes for building sites.  Existing fire detectors are vulnerable to poor weather such as high winds and freezing temperatures, so there are opportunities for developing cameras as temporary fire systems.

A multi-storey car park recently caught fire in Derby. The car park was closed while the damage was repaired and that’s lost income for Derbyshire City Council.

Stud stables or racing stables by the nature of the beast are open-aired with horses encapsulated in little houses.  Protecting them is a very tough job. Many organisations see cameras as a solution.

Marina fires can be mind-blowingly costly; if one boat goes up because its LPG canisters aren’t properly maintained, then it’s very difficult to control because it’s out in the open air. I have a couple of people installing cameras at marinas in the South West right now.

Morrissons has a huge logistics centre in Bridgwater.  Point detectors, because of the building’s height of the building, makes it terribly inefficient, so aspirators don’t even come into the equation.

And just how efficient are beam detectors over the area they have to cover?  Whereas a camera, you can choose your lenses to suit the type of build.

B&Q have an enormous logistics centre just outside Swindon. They tell me you can hang about five jumbo jets inside the place.  When you consider how flammable its stock is – wood, varnish, paint, you name it – a fire would go rather quickly.

A saving of two minutes could be the difference between stopping the fire and seeing the place burn down.

I think insurance payouts for fires are worth more than £1bn a year. It’s a lot of money.

IG: And which markets does this technology not suit?

DB: Well cost alone prohibits installation in hotels, B&Bs and so forth.  And if the present means of fire protection work 100%, why change it?

But with technology advancing the way it is, I can actually see a time in the future when you have miniature cameras in rooms.

IG: What’s the level of enthusiasm among fire and rescue services for this kind of technology?

DB: Right now, the fire services like confirmation that a fire really is a fire and visual verification is as good as you’re going to get. IP will do that.

And these cameras actually record a series of events, so with arson, for example, they can actually see what’s going on.

Arson is a serious problem – particularly at certain schools.  I’ve been told that if the education authorities put a camera in certain places in schools it would pay for itself in a term.

Uniformed fire services are called out somewhere for arson almost on a daily basis.  Merseyside  has the worst record I think for drug addicts killing themselves in fires. The cost to Liverpool City Council is enormous.

IG: Why does fire safety technology take so long to evolve compared to other industries?

DB: The fire industry moves at a very slow pace.  In the security industry something new comes out maybe every six months; in the fire industry it’s maybe every two years.

Consequently, it’s not a dynamic industry. Why?  Because if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Now the detection systems now have been twinned so many times over the last 40 years that they’re probably as good as they’re going to get. The demands of fire protection have broadened and things like marinas, equine centres and building sites need something new and innovative –  and this piece of technology can probably solve most problems.

IG: And what about official standards?

DB: Currently there are no standards for fire cameras in Europe. They have them in the US, even in China. ISO, the International Standards Organisation, put out for public comment back in March that ISO TC21/FC3N, if public commenting finished on 13 June, the proposed draft was rejected by several agencies including the BSI.

We’re now a year down the road from rejection and it’s three more months before the standard hits the streets.  Everybody has got twelve months to get their equipment up to the approved standard.

IG: Any new products in the pipeline?

DB: We’re bringing out three cameras in January: a camera that detects flame and heat, one that detects flame, heat and smoke, and one that does all of that and can connect over IP to your iPhone. So as you’re driving down the motorway it will tell you if your premises are on fire.

There’s a multi-speed function on these cameras which can interface with an RS485 facility for networking with multiple cameras.

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