Push the Button!

False alarms are notoriously high in student halls of residence. Yet in the 9 months since Boatman Court opened, not one false alarm has been reported, nor has the Fire Brigade ever been called out to the building, which houses over 70 students.

According to Graeme Sharples, the owner/manager of the plush new five-storey block of student flats, the absence of false alarms can be attributed solely to the presence of C-TEC’s Hush Buttons, which are installed in each of the building’s 17 apartments.

Says Graeme: “The Hush Buttons allow students to silence any false alarms they’ve caused themselves, for example by burning the toast. To any Building Manager, the advantages of this are obvious especially in a place housing young people. I don’t get called out in the middle of the night to deal with the Fire Brigade, check the building, reset the panel and all the other headaches typically associated with false alarms.”

Costing over £3.2m to construct, Boatman Court hall of residence is a far cry from old style student accommodation. The stylishly designed block comprises 17 apartments spread over 5 floors. Each apartment has up to six separate self-contained bedrooms with en-suite facilities and one large communal dining kitchen/lounge area. In total there are 77 individual single bedrooms.

One of C-TEC’s XFP addressable fire panels is installed in the building’s reception area which is connected via its two addressable loops to a vast array of Apollo XP95 addressable detectors and sounders and, crucially, 17 of C-TEC’s Hush Buttons (one per apartment).

Designed by Nigel Thomas of specialist installation company Solid State, the Boatman Court system is truly innovative. Explains Nigel: “Each of the site’s Hush Buttons can be looked upon as miniature fire alarm control panels providing fully monitored BS 5839 part 6 compliant detection, alarm and silencing facilities inside each individual apartment.  Each one controls the local conventional detection and alarm equipment inside the apartment which comprises a sounder, call point and fire detector in all communal areas and a fire detector and sounder in each bedroom.

“Hush Buttons provide students with a means of silencing false alarms themselves thereby preventing the full-scale evacuation of other residents in the building. Not only does this prevent the unnecessary calling of the Fire Brigade, it means the safety of the building and its residents is never compromised”.

Fire Officer, Brad Walker, agrees: “There is no doubt the Hush Button system at Boatman Court enhances the fire protection of the building and lessens the demands on an already stretched fire service. It ensures the number of false alarms throughout the building is dramatically reduced and therefore there is confidence in the landlord’s system, hence when the landlord’s system does activate we should get a good response from the occupants.”

Continues Nigel: “The way the system operates is both simple and logical. If a local alarm condition occurs within an apartment only the local sounders within that apartment operate. Students then have two minutes to investigate if the alarm is unwanted or genuine before it is reported to the landlord’s panel.

“If unwanted, they press the Hush Button and a hushed period of two minutes begins. If the alarm condition clears within these two minutes, the Hush Button returns to its normal state. If it doesn’t, the student can either extend the hush period by pressing the Hush Button again or do nothing, in which case a general fire will be flagged at the landlord’s panel to be acted upon according to Boatman Court’s fire management plan.”

An additional feature of the system is that the Hush Buttons can temporarily isolate the local zone if, for example, building or maintenance work is taking place – another common cause of false alarms.

“Pressing the Hush Button when it is in its normal state will cause a hushed period of 15 minutes to begin,” says Nigel. “During this period, power is cut to the local zone so no alarm signals can be detected except those from manual call points. After 15 minutes, or when the Hush Button is pressed again, the system returns to its normal state.”

As well as reducing false alarms, the system is geared towards providing a rapid response to genuine fire alarm conditions. If, at any time the landlord’s panel enters a general fire condition, it overrides any hushed state at a Hush Button and turns on all its local sounders. Likewise, if an apartment’s manual call point is operated, it instantly turns on all of the area’s local sounders and reports the condition to the landlord’s panel.  

Moreover, the fact each Hush Button employs constant line fault monitoring means it will signal a fault to the landlord’s panel should a detector or sounder be dislodged or damaged – a feature that helps ensure the system is kept working at all times.

According to owner/manager Graeme Sharples, the benefits of the Boatman Court system are immense.

Says Graeme: “The system and the Hush Buttons in particular have saved me a huge amount of time and money in Fire Brigade call outs and unnecessary evacuations. More importantly, the students ultimately have much greater belief and trust in the system to advise them when there is a real fire and not to question the validity of a real fire alarm, an enormous and potentially life-saving advantage.”

Concludes Nigel Thomas: “There can be no doubt that Hush Buttons represent a significant breakthrough in the battle against false alarms and that the cost-savings and benefits for Fire Brigades are potentially huge. 

“The design at Boatman Court can be replicated in hundreds, if not thousands of similar buildings and in doing so reduce the risk of false alarms, unnecessary building evacuations and the potential for true alarm signals to be ignored.”