Fire prevention is ultimately more important than firefighting. Firefighting is essentially damage limitation. Firefighters perform one of the most heroic jobs around, but nobody would deny that the fight against fire should begin with stopping it happening in the first place. When we think of fire safety technology then, we often consider the mountains of equipment that firefighters will arrive on the scene with, laden on board their trucks and prepared for any eventuality. And when we focus on fire prevention (or the suppression of a small fire before it gets out of hand), it is amazing how much room there is for technological improvement, both in terms of hard equipment and ever-increasing software solutions.
Business Fire Safety
Preventative fire safety technology is most advanced where it applies to businesses, particularly high-tech ones. The reasons for this are simple. For one thing, people will tolerate the slight invasiveness of fire safety equipment in the workplace far more than they will in their home (although part of the new generation of fire safety is that the technology is increasingly less invasive). For another, there is a strict legal imperative on employers to protect their employees, and the law will simply not allow a business to function without a tested and effective fire safety infrastructure. This is one of the reasons fire extinguishers for businesses, to take one example, are much bigger sellers than their domestic equivalents. You only need to think about it: how often do you see a fire extinguisher in someone’s home? What about the office?
Yet although it is tempting for businesses to proudly display their adherence to fire safety regulation by having lots of signage, and a visible fire safety infrastructure, the latest trends in fire safety technology are actually moving more and more into the area of software solutions. Things like electrical extinguishers for business and more advanced smoke detectors certainly have their place, but it is AI, the Internet of Things, and the monitoring of fire data that seems to spell out the future. This might seem like a novelty – fire safety is a matter of life and death and hardly an appropriate area to go chasing after dazzling digital technology – but the technology has advanced now to such a stage that software could soon play a vital role in fire prevention and suppression. In many cases it already does.
And as this new technology emerges, it is typically businesses that can afford it and are under the heaviest pressure to use it. Fire safety innovations follow the general trend of all new technology – the increased use of data. Now technology can gather information about a fire that no human could without placing themselves in harm’s way. Similarly, fire safety systems, which are alert to the things that cause fire, can be highly effective in suppressing a fire before it gets out of hand or even stopping it starting in the first place.
It certainly seems most likely that it is businesses and places of work that will feel the benefit of this new technology first. But make no mistake; this is a technological revolution that will soon take over fire safety in all its forms.
The Unique Technology of Business Fire Safety
Advanced Water Sprinkler Systems
It’s a little-known fact that the first water sprinkler system was actually invented in the 15th century by Leonardo Da Vinci. The Italian polymath had designed the fire safety system for the kitchen of a wealthy patron. The system could indeed respond to the presence of smoke by releasing a shower of water to extinguish any potential fires in a manner not too dissimilar to water sprinkler systems today. Unfortunately for Da Vinci, however, the system was not a success. After being set off by a small fire in the kitchen, the sprinkler system flooded the kitchen and ruined a banquet that was happening at the time. Amazing as it is to think, this is still a problem with many sprinkler systems today!
One of the major issues that new and innovative sprinkler systems are aiming to contend with is precisely this problem of them being set off by non-lethal fires – or even just the smoke from cooking or a cigarette. Also problematic is the propensity for sprinkler systems to shower a whole room or building in water, covering areas where the fire is not located and potentially causing a great deal of water damage across a wide area.
This is where software can play a key role. By utilising sensors and collecting data on the size, temperature, and nature of the fire, new high-tech sprinkler systems can target the source of the fire much more exactly, focussing their water reserve only where the fire is. Many high-tech sprinkler systems also release a fine mist instead of a shower, as this is more effective at extinguishing a fire by increasing the surface area of water in direct contact with it. As high-tech sprinkler systems are rarely installed in private residencies, this is certainly one for businesses and paces of work.
Video Smoke and Flame Detection
The problem of oversensitivity is not just confined to sprinkler systems. Fire alarms can frequently be set off by non-dangerous smoke in just the same way. One solution to this problem has been the development of more advanced fire alarms that can distinguish between different smoke particle sizes, only being set off when the particle size conforms to the smoke from a dangerous fire. Another solution is video smoke and fire detection.
Video smoke and fire detection works on the principle that dangerous fires can usually be distinguished visually. When you see a plume of smoke, it is usually pretty obvious whether it’s coming from a fire you should worry about or whether it’s just somebody burning the toast in the office canteen. Connected to an advanced AI system, and with a series of cameras as the system’s “eyes”, these advanced systems can trigger fire responses for only the fires that require them. As setting up cameras in the home is a non-starter, and as places of work or business are typically monitored by cameras anyway, this is another technology much more suited for business fire suppression.
The Internet of Things
The two previously mentioned fire safety systems are examples of technology that can be integrated into a local Internet of Things (IoT), or a “smart building”, as the technology is usually called when installed over a large complex. What this entails is the integration of all these data-collecting technologies and automatic responses into a single system, which can trigger all the appropriate responses to any fire hazard breaking. Smart building systems even have the potential to relay information about fire hazards and the layout of the building to the fire services before they even arrive. Furthermore, they can evacuate the building and notify said services automatically. Above everything else, it is perhaps this technology that will really dominate the future of fire safety in places of business. The potential in integrating everything together seems almost endless.
Above all, the future of business fire safety comes down to one simple principle – hardware and software working together.