Editor, IFSEC Global

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James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Global, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
March 31, 2021

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IFSEC Interviews

Why raising standards through training is the key to unlocking the fire industry’s potential

Derrick Hall, Sales Director at Kentec

IFSEC Global speaks with Derrick Hall, Sales Director at Kentec, about the company’s response to a global pandemic and how it is supporting its installers by placing an emphasis on competency in fire safety through training.

Like many in the fire industry, as a manufacturer of fire detection systems and panels that help save lives, Kentec wasn’t able to ‘switch off’ during the last 12 months of a global pandemic. Fortunately, the company put a robust plan into action early on, explains Derrick Hall.

“We expanded our factory floor space by a third, which gave us the ability to implement safe social distancing measures, even before the UK’s official national lockdown begun. While this was in our expansion plans anyway, we took the approach that the health and safety of our colleagues was the most important thing for us to consider. With 130 employees working in the factory, and customers requiring safety-critical equipment, it was vital we were able to adjust and keep everything going.”

The modification of its factory in Dartford, Kent appears to have been a success, with very little disruption to processes resulting in no downtime or late deliveries, according to the business.

“So much of the higher-level technology is now PC-based when it comes to commissioning and integrating it with other systems. To really ensure end-users get the most out of it, and ensure devices are fit for purpose, it is vital that installers have a good level of understanding if they’re going to specify and install such products.”

Indeed, Kentec was able to bring on new, demanding projects during this time – one in particular that the company is (rightly) proud of was the supply of its Sigma XT Gas Suppression Panels to the Louisa Jordan NHS Facility in Glasgow which provided more than 500 beds for COVID-19 patients. The manufacturer worked closely with the Vipond Fire Protection installation team to install the systems in a seven-day turnaround, which included seven Sigma panels and 32 detectors.

Supporting engineers with more advanced solutions

Competency in fire safety has perhaps never been more important. Across the supply chain, the industry is under scrutiny following the tragic Grenfell Tower Fire in 2017, which highlighted the need for anyone fitting fire safety devices and equipment to have the relevant expertise to do so.

While most installers and engineers have the experience to fit and commission basic models, Derrick notes there is an apparent skills gap when it comes to working on some of the more advanced solutions that are now available in the market. Such devices can offer significant advantages to their traditional counterparts, particularly where connected technology and wireless systems are now required to play more important roles in fire safety applications.

“We receive thousands of calls every year to our technical helpline, and from there we’ve been able to gauge the need for more standardised, quality training from our installer partners on some of our newer, more technologically advanced products, such as the Taktis product range. Some products require increased levels of training and support from the manufacturer – it’s why we’ve put so much emphasis behind the Kentec Installation Partner (KIP) programme,” adds Derrick.

“So much of the higher-level technology is now PC-based when it comes to commissioning and integrating it with other systems. To really ensure end-users get the most out of it, and ensure devices are fit for purpose, it is vital that installers have a good level of understanding if they’re going to specify and install such products.”

Kentec launched KIP at FIREX International in 2019, and it has continued to form a major part of the company’s push towards competency in the fire sector. With the relaunch of its EN54-13 and UL_864 (10th edition) certified Taktis, its sophisticated range of analogue addressable fire panels which can integrate into intelligent buildings, the business took a competency-first approach, offering high level training to customers.

The pandemic hasn’t stopped this, either. In fact, as Derrick points out, the switch to video training has allowed the programme to become more flexible and reduced the travel requirements for trainers and engineers – adding a more sustainable angle to sessions as well. E-learning modules, video FAQs and web-based classroom training now form the basis of KIP. No longer are sessions limited by classroom space or geography – particularly important for Kentec’s international customer base.

Derrick adds: “Our international customers have truly welcomed the move towards a digital space. They feel like they better understand the product, and with more confidence comes better competency in the sector – something that we’re keen to push. While it’s not our role to police the industry, we believe we can help fulfil some of the crucial knowledge gaps.”

Similar emphasis has been given to the understanding of evacuation alert procedures, specifically in relation to high-rise buildings and the challenges of replacing Waking Watch patrols. The company recently highlighted this in a FIREX Tech Talks session, exploring how its Evac-Point and Ekho devices can provide a solution to the problem for building managers, which you can watch below.

Open vs closed protocol? The debate continues

One area of fire safety that Derrick has become particularly engaged with during his 25 years in the industry is the debate of open versus closed protocol systems. Ultimately, he explains, there is a place for both open, managed and closed protocols in the fire detection and alarm market, but there are ongoing concerns that the terminology isn’t quite correct and has been misused in the industry.

In general terms a protocol is defined by:

A protocol is a standard set of rules that allow electronic devices to communicate with each other. These rules include what type of data may be transmitted, what commands are used to send and receive data, and how data transfers are confirmed. You can think of a protocol as a spoken language.

Kentec’s Taktis range

Derrick explains further: “In effect all systems made up of panels and devices need to have a protocol that enables them to operate with each other and function as the manufacturer intended. EN54-13 is the standard that enables these systems to be tested for functional compatibility.

“In the fire alarm industry ‘open protocol’ has generally been used to describe a product that can be installed, commissioned and serviced by any organisation or service provider that has access to the engineering/commissioning software. Whereas ‘closed protocol’ has been defined as a product that can only be serviced and maintained by the original equipment manufacturer. As you can see, this has nothing to do with the technical communication protocols but is more based around who can maintain, service and manage the system post-installation. It has been used incorrectly but has stuck for as long as I can remember.

“I maintain my opinion that both have their place in the market, assuming the end customer is aware of the overall life cycle costs, values and benefits of both types of systems – there is no right or wrong choice, but end users need to be well informed on the initial buying decision about the products they choose, as they may be stuck with them for 20 years or more.

“Kentec is fully committed to the open protocol approach but we also recognise that some products are becoming much more complex and require increased levels of training and support from the manufacturer.

“I’d much prefer to see the real definition of a ‘protocol’ being returned to the technical and communication elements of the discussion. For example, Kentec has the facility to use open protocols such as BACnet & Modbus communications to open up the system into the IOT and Smart Building environment and allow seamless integration into third party systems.”

Certainly, the idea of a system which communicates with other parts of the smart building environment is something that the fire industry is beginning to embrace. Only recently the Fire Industry Association set up an IoT working group, highlighting the role such technology is set to play in the sector going forwards. Consequently, it will be increasingly important that engineers have the expertise necessary to ensure these systems are installed and commissioned correctly – an area that Kentec is well placed to support in, it would appear.


Fire Safety in 2020 Annual Report - A year of challenges and change

Download the Fire Safety in 2020 eBook, as IFSEC Global and FIREX International keep you up to date with the biggest stories of the year, including new legislation, Grenfell Tower Inquiry revelations and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected professionals in the sector.

The eBook also features a nine-point guide to firestopping, an exclusive foreword from the Fire Industry Association's Ian Moore, and a round-up of the biggest news and prosecution stories of the year.

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