fire safety

Protecting life, property, and reputation is now much easier for commercial facilities ranging from hospitals, universities, and indoor football practice fields to museums and airport terminals as advanced aspirating smoke detector technology becomes widely available.

The technology, which draws in air samples through flexible tubing to a central testing location, has been used for decades in sensitive applications, such as data centers, where early smoke detection is critical.

Compared to traditional spot smoke detectors, this approach dramatically improves commercial facility safety by detecting smoke at the earliest possible stage. It also significantly improves aesthetics with small, concealable sampling points, while reducing false alarms and even maintenance.


As an example, one system, called the VESDA-E VEA, by Xtralis, a global provider of aspirating fire detection equipment, draws air through small, unobtrusive sample point in each room. The air is analyzed using sophisticated laser-based technology at the central unit to identify the presence of minute smoke particles in a continuous process.

This approach offers earlier detection than even photoelectric technology detectors. The system is able to detect minor particles in the air much faster, even before a fire begins to flame and burn. In many cases, early warnings can speed evacuation and prevent fire spreading to other areas.

As a multi-channel, addressable system, the VEA central unit can also pinpoint the exact location of the alarm. The use of multiple levels of alarm, set at specified concentrations of smoke, can also ensure time to investigate the alarms and make decisions. This facilitates safe evacuation and reduces the risk of unwanted sprinkler or suppression system release.

Unlike unsightly traditional smoke detectors up to 7-inches in diameter, the VEA’s sampling points are about the size of a quarter, and can be concealed behind ventilation covers or within fixtures, making them inconspicuous to facility occupants and visitors.

The aspirating approach is also much easier to maintain. Unlike traditional spot detectors which must be tested individually, and can be compromised by accumulation of dust and dirt, aspirating systems can self-clean and detect any blockages or breaks in the tubing. Such systems not only stop false alarms due to dust or dirt contamination of sensors, but also can distinguish between smoke, fire, and other airborne contaminants, which further reduces nuisance alarms.

Mandated annual National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) inspections are also simplified. Unlike traditional smoke alarms, systems like the VEA do not require testing of each detector by introducing smoke directly into the chamber. Instead, the tests can be conducted at the central unit.


While traditional spot smoke detectors have been common in commercial applications, a growing number of such facilities are successfully turning to aspirating detectors for a variety of reasons.

Hospitals and Healthcare. While spot smoke detectors are relatively easy to install, NFPA regulations mandate annual inspection and testing of each unit, which can be disruptive to patients, doctors, nurses and hospital personnel in a hospital and healthcare environment. This tedious, time-consuming process requires a fire alarm contractor to enter each room, introduce smoke directly into the detector and verify that it functions properly.

In compliance with NFPA 72 Chapter 14 requirements, systems like VEA do not require the contractor to enter each room. Instead, servicing and testing can be performed at the central unit and only takes a few seconds per sample point. In this way, the fire alarm contractor can complete the inspection at any time without having to move patients or access restricted areas.

By some estimates, this can greatly reduce maintenance and inspection costs and reduce the total cost of ownership of the fire alarm system by up to 60 percent.

Ultra-Modern Facilities. At the other end of the spectrum, sleek modern facilities often feature minimalist architecture where bulky spot smoke detectors look strikingly out of place. As such, there is a premium on making smoke detection blend in with the surroundings instead of clash with it.

A high-profile project for a new state of the art sports performance center at a prominent Pac 12 university required a smoke detector that was less obvious, even concealable, according to Bob Pritchard of Convergint Technologies, a company that designs, installs and services integrated building systems including electronic security, fire alarm and life safety systems.

“The designers and the architects responsible for this remodel didn’t want to see any safety devices sticking out of the ceilings,” explains Pritchard. “It was very important for them to see as minimal impact as possible.”

Airports. Chief among the challenges of protecting airports from fire are massive open spaces such as terminals, baggage halls, hangars, and warehouses where smoke is diluted. Detection is further complicated when air is moved or removed by HVAC systems. However, with the lives of passengers and the logistics of connecting flights on the line, such systems must give as early a warning as possible.

So Delhi Airport Terminal 3, a transportation hub with the capacity to handle 34 million passengers annually, turned to aspirating technology. With eight levels 28 meters above the ground laid over four square kilometers, the terminal has more than 90 automated walkways and 78 aerobridges.

VESDA by Xtralis was specified for Delhi Airport Terminal 3 because of its advantages in protecting large, open spaces where smoke is diluted. The system continuously samples air to detect even the smallest smoke particles, preventing a small fire from becoming a major incident. The system buys time to investigate an alarm and initiate an appropriate response to prevent injury, property damage or business disruption.


Some managers of commercial facilities may be prone to use spot smoke detectors because of their familiarity with such traditional systems.

However, those who take advantage of the superior capabilities of aspirating detection systems will not only protect lives, property, and reputation to a degree not previously possible in commercial settings, but also prevent serious liability and litigation in worst case scenarios.


For more information about Xtralis, a global provider of aspirating fire detection equipment (VESDA-E VEA system), call 619.252.2015, or visit

Modern Contractor Solutions, October 2018
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