Firetech Projects: engineering best practice in security system integration

October 2003 Fire & Safety

Firetech Projects (Firetech) is one of the leading systems integrators of fire detection and suppression, access control, CCTV, evacuation and building management systems. Established in 1993 the company has celebrated its tenth anniversary with a staff of almost 100 people, with operations within South Africa and beyond our borders operating from offices in Cape Town and Pretoria.

The company is privately owned by Steve Alberts (CEO), Raymond McKenzie (operations director) and Hendrik van Wyk. In terms of its empowerment objectives Firetech Projects some two years ago established a joint venture company with the IT focused Intesol, establishing the 60% black empowerment company Firetech Intesol Projects. As a systems integrator the core business of Firetech is the design, installation and maintenance of systems and the company supports all the reputable product and device suppliers, the final choice being driven by customer requirements in terms of specification, performance and price. While Firetech has for several years been certified to ISO 9002, in June this year it was re-certified to the new ISO 9000:2000 Quality Management System. In addition the company is a member of FDIA.

'Fast-track' strategy

Firetech has recently been involved in a number of high-profile installations covering the full breadth of its expertise. Many of these addressed situations where speed of installation was a major priority and the company has continued to deliver in terms of its 'fast-track' strategy. One of the more recent installations was a CCTV monitoring system for the fresh produce market in Johannesburg, the largest market of this type in the country. Plagued with petty pilfering right through to major hold-ups, the market, traditionally a cash-based business needed to drastically improve its security system. The R3 million contract was awarded to Firetech who completed the entire project (including civil work) in just 2½ months. The size of the undertaking is evident from the fact that more than 40 km of optical fibre (used for communications) was installed.

The CCTV system makes use of 16 static cameras and 32 high speed dome units providing zoom, tilt and rotational functions. The output from all the cameras is fed to the central control room where it is digitally recorded. Twelve monitors are active in the control room with two operator chairs (each having full access to the total CCTV system), the operators being able to control the individual cameras over an Ethernet and ISDN line. Cameras not under direct control of the operators operate in a pre-programmed sequence, scanning the entire area of its operational control. The system was officially handed over on 17 July this year and a major decrease in both petty and major criminal activities has already been reported.

Revamping Armscor head office

On the fire detection and suppression side of the business Firetech was recently awarded a contract to revamp the entire system at the Armscor head office and the adjacent Defence Headquarters (the security system in these buildings was carried out by Firetech some years ago). In the fire installation, some 15 Ziton ZP3 fire control alarm systems were linked on a peer to peer basis over optical fibre back to a PC in the control room operating a SCADA system with software developed by Firetech. Some 3000 devices (detectors, monitors, relays etc.) are monitored and backed up with five standalone audio racks feeding more than 2000 speakers located in over 30 zones.

The existing halon 1301 gas extinguishing system was replaced with a NAFS III gas system with more than 2000 kg of gas being available. The new extinguishing gas is environmentally friendly so the installation is now in full compliance with environmental directions to remove halon gases. A novel feature of the installation is that the on-site gas is not strictly zone allocated and in emergency the total amount can be used to control one devastating fire outbreak on one or several floors (and/or zones). The system will provide the threatened zone with alert and/or evacuation signals and extinguishers are automatically switched on. In the case of evacuation the system links in automatically to the access control system and all escape route doors are opened while captive fire doors (still easily opened for evacuation) are released to prevent spread of the fire. No water is used in this installation as it would, unlike the NAFS gas, cause enormous damage to computer and other electronic systems. This installation was commissioned at the end of March.

Maintaining key accounts

In terms of Firetech Intesol Projects this company was awarded the R7 million contract for the installation of the access control, fire detection and suppression system for the new domestic terminal at Johannesburg International. Firetech itself has an ongoing maintenance contract for the entire fire detection system at this airport.

Firetech is also closely involved with the telecommunications industry in the area of fire detection and suppression, restricting the spread being essential for continued telecommunications operation in the event of a disaster. Installations have been completed in many of the fixed line operator's automatic exchanges and key buildings. The latter include the country's switching centre in Charles Street in Bloemfontein where the premises is protected with some 180-200 Bar Inergen gas cylinders, once again operating on a cross-over basis where maximum suppression can be focussed on the seat of the fire. A more recent installation was carried out at Telkom's new Centurion Extension which came on line at the end of June with 360 Inergen cylinders, one of the largest such installations on this continent.

The new SP warehouse for MTN in Midrand has an integrated system installed by Firetech that addresses intrusion detection, intercom, CCTV, Cardex access control, fire detection, evacuation and an electric fence. This was once again a fast-track installation and was tackled in three phases, namely the warehouse, the administration block and finally the canteen and main gate. The installation of the system in the critical warehouse area was completed in a record time of just three weeks and the total value of the contract was R2,8 million.

International spread of business

Cell-C and Vodacom are also customers of Firetech and in the case of the latter the local company provided integrated systems (fire detection, access control, CCTV, FM 200 gas etc) for the cellular company's Congo rollout. While the Congo is the furthest country in Africa where Firetech has operated (others include Botswana and Malawi) providing its own logistical problems, installations have been integrated as far away as Europe, one of the more recent being a fire detection system for the Sheraton Hotel in Albania.

In another recent development Firetech was awarded a major contract by Shell that covers the installation of CCTV systems on the forecourts and stores of all of its inland petrol stations. The contract extends across the border into Botswana and the first major installation was the twin Ultra City site in Midrand.

Keeping watch on healthcare's vital signs

Another sector of our economy that is seriously affected by crime is the hospital system and the company has several ongoing installations in the Cape area. In Gauteng it was recently awarded a R5 million contract to provide a CCTV surveillance and access control system for the Johannesburg Academic Hospital. Scheduled for completion by the end of this year some 110 cameras (with fibre-optic links and digital recording) will be used to monitor the technical areas. This is expected to dramatically reduce the theft of equipment and consumables (eg, bed linen) as well as providing increased security for the medical and other staff.

While new business is critical for the continued growth of Firetech, maintenance of installed systems is critical. As an example, the company has the contract for the maintenance of all ABSA banks in Gauteng, Northern Province, Western Cape, Mpumalanga and North West Province. The company's familiarity with all brands of third party devices including Ziton, Aritech, Edwards Systems and Notifier, makes it particularly strong in the maintenance area.

Firetech Projects, which has also been involved in several strategic security installations for government and cabinet ministers is today one of the largest players in its market sector. Its significant growth over the last decade is indicative of the increased awareness in this country of the need for reliable and effective security, access control and fire detection solutions. The company expects its strong growth to continue with new installations being addressed together with the ongoing maintenance and upgrades of existing installations.

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