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Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015

Letter to the editor, July 24


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False alarm offers teaching moment

Suddenly, I recognized it as being a recording from a fire alarm system. I moved to the nearest exit (at the screen of the theater) and held the door open for people to exit.

Most people headed for the lobby. As I waited outside, I was very surprised that they (the theater crew) were letting people back into the theater without the building having been cleared by fire officials.

You can't "assume" a false alarm, or a prank.

As a NICET-certified electronics technician, with a specialty in commercial fire alarm, I have vast experience in the installation, testing and operation of these systems.

Certainly, the voice message should have cut off the movie sound. These systems have two important features: One is a "trouble" feature which reports problems in the system, such as if someone turned the water supply off to the fire sprinkler system. It also reports issues if a wire is removed.

The second feature is an "alarm." That is, a smoke detector going off, water moving through the sprinkler system, or someone pulling a "Pull in Case of Fire" station, located near every exit. If the "alarm" had been activated, the strobes, horns/speakers, etc. should have gone off. The a/c should have shut down and roof top vent fans activated. In cases where a "trouble" is found by the panel, no alarms will sound and the recording should not be activated.

The theater should hold the testing company that "certified" the system during their recent testing responsible. The National Fire Protection Association guidelines are very thorough and encompass the public safety.

These are in addition to the National Electrical Code guidelines. The testing company either does incomplete testing or they send unqualified technicians to do the testing.

Our lives are in the hands of these people as we sit in a dark theater enjoying a movie. I should add, some jurisdictions allow 10 percent of the smoke detectors to be tested and still certify the systems.

We just have to hope that we're not in the 90 percent of the space that isn't tested. And that includes the smoke detectors inside the duct work of the heat/ac, ventilation system, where you're certainly likely to have smoke issues if the a/c starts on fire ... on the building's roof!

If these don't work right, they can actually pump lethal smoke into the theater. Perhaps we can encourage the local authorities not to accept partial testing of systems in commercial buildings. And property owners, in the name of public safety, insist on complete testing and hold the testing companies responsible.

Larry Franklin

Spring Hill

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