Firefighting, Industrial Firefighting, Tech Zone

Fire Station Alerting Controllers

By PAUL GYORE

Over the years, fire stations have become quite sophisticated; their fundamental purpose has not changed, but by increasing fire station technology, firefighters can be more effective and respond more quickly. Communication networks, climate control, audio and lighting technology, and mechanical automation have assisted and enhanced comfort for firefighters living in a modern station. Dispatching firefighters has also become more advanced. Gone are the days when an alarm bell would ring or a siren would sound, sending all personnel scrambling for the nearest fire pole and turnout gear. Today, a modern fire station needs ramped tones, lighting, and zoned alerting for the health of the firefighters.


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Zoned alerting allows you to dispatch individual rooms or fire station areas uniquely, while other station areas are not alerted. Each zone may have audio, lighting, and message signs assigned to it, presenting the information in multiple, easy-to-understand methods. It partitions a fire station’s occupants—personnel and equipment—into planned groups and allows unneeded personnel to sleep through a call without being disturbed. The station alerting controller’s primary function is to alert fire station personnel during an alarm. Secondary functions include communication with dispatch/CAD, local intercom, relay control printing to rip and run, station audio and lighting control, controller logging, station status communication, and more. Besides primary and secondary functions, modern station controllers must be able to communicate with dispatch using various methods, such as Internet protocol (IP); dual-tone multifrequency signaling; two-tone, single-tone radio modem; and pager tone. Most modern station alerting controllers cannot perform all of these functions. Many modern station controllers lack basic functions such as multiple and redundant paths; NFPA 1221, Standard for the Installation, Maintenance, and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems Compliance; remote configuration; or remote viewing station status and service logs. And alarmingly, some commercial-grade station alerting controllers are designed with antiquated, eight-bit microcontrollers incapable of performing most of the aforementioned functions. US Digital Designs’ Phoenix G2 Fire Station Alerting System performs primary and secondary station controller functions. An industrial, solid-state computer with a hardened operating system runs the station controller software, communicates with dispatch and all network devices, acts as a local server, and displays dispatch and unit information.

The station controller software was written for an embedded operating system, resulting in a smaller footprint, and can perform high-security upgrades and monitoring remotely. The Phoenix G2 Fire Station Alerting System can log data for years.

Fully automated dispatching is the future of fire station alerting. Automated voice generation helps dispatchers maintain the traditional vocalized alert to fire stations with the features provided in station alerting systems. Use of an automated voice generation allows nearly instantaneous multiple dispatches to a practically unlimited number of destinations with crystal-clear professional sounding virtual dispatchers.

Fire station designers consider a community’s multifaceted needs, which typically translate into more than just the firefighting requirement. Fire stations are used for public meetings, education and training, outreach, and emergency shelter. Based on these demands, fire stations have become larger and more complex, which leads to higher overall costs. You must evaluate each system added to a fire station based on cost, ease of installation, and maintenance. Installation factors have a profound effect on reducing costs and construction time.

The first step in reducing installation complexity is designing well-engineered, dependable products that do not need early replacement. No manufacturer can guarantee that a product will last forever, but by choosing proven and tested station alerting equipment, personnel can avoid the potential hassle of costly asset replacement and new installation. With redundant alerting paths, you can alert the Phoenix G2 with paging tones and switch to IP dispatching paths without any new hardware. The Phoenix G2 Station Alerting System was designed for uncomplicated installations. A single CAT 5⁄6 Ethernet cable is all that is required for each remote peripheral device; a qualified cable installer can install it in new and existing stations. Phoenix G2 network devices use a “power over Ethernet” scheme and do not need external localized power supplies or electrical connections. The Phoenix G2 base controller is available in two configurations, both trouble-free to install.

Large stations can purchase the Phoenix G2 controller as a complete, turnkey 19-inch rack system that supports 24 to 72 remote peripheral devices. The rack includes the Phoenix G2 controller system, industrial power supplies, and industrial battery backup.

Also available is the Phoenix G2 ATX, which was drafted for smaller-scale fire stations. Nearly functionally identical to the larger rack system, the ATX is about 1⁄8 the size of the rack system and can be mounted on a wall, a countertop, or in an existing 19-inch rack. In standard trim, the G2 ATX supports eight remote peripheral devices such as message signs, relay I/O modules, and LED lighted speaker zones. A station can start off with a few remote devices and can add more as requirements increase.

PAUL GYORE is a software engineer for US Digital Designs and has worked in the fire service for five years. He works closely with the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department as well as fire departments in other cities, providing station alerting products, solutions, and services.

 

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