Banking on fire control

April 2006 Fire & Safety


Masc Solutions' client for this project is a major South African banking and financial organisation with interests both locally and internationally. The company's primary computer centre, built in the seventies, was provided with conventional fire detection systems and utilised Halon 1301 as the gaseous fire suppression agent. Halon 1301 is from a family of CFCs which were considered a major contributor to ozone depletion and in line with the Montreal Protocol became a banned substance. As a result of this, the production of Halon 1301 was phased out.

The facility contains a large portion of the Bank's information technology (IT) network infrastructure and is absolutely critical to the ongoing operations of the business.

Although the computer centre was fitted with a fire detection and suppression system during the construction phase, these systems had become outdated and extremely difficult to maintain and support. The availability of spares and the necessary knowledge base was no longer available and the reliability of the equipment could no longer be guaranteed.

The old system

From a fire detection perspective, the system consisted of conventional fire detection equipment originally installed by Minerva Fire Systems who were no longer in business. The conventional fire detection technology available at the time provided no means of determining if the detection devices would function in a fire condition and this could only be determined by scheduled testing and regular preventative maintenance. The equipment was not self-diagnostic unlike the modern 'intelligent' systems and provided no pro-active means of device or hardware malfunction.

The fire detection control panel manufacturer ceased trading in the early nineties and the public address and evacuation systems although considered 'state of the art' at the time of installation had become obsolete.

The challenges

The discontinuation of production of Halon 1301 occurred in the early nineties. Having become a signatory to the Montreal Protocol, the South African government banned the importation of Halon and legislated to limit the ongoing use to mission critical projects such as the protection of aircraft and military personnel carriers. The Bank made a decision several years previously to retain a full complement of standby Halon cylinders to mitigate against such an event, however, our inability to obtain an immediate replacement of the Halon 1301 in the event of a system discharge had become a grave concern.

The decision to replace the Halon 1301 was made several years ago but budgetary restraints delayed implementation.

Several factors were taken into consideration prior to the final decision to implement a structured and predefined strategy to the company's long term fire safety requirements. The continually escalating costs of maintaining the current fire detection systems were a serious concern and the cease of production of Halon 1301 provided a clear directive that a pro-active approach to the future planning of our fire systems was essential.

The solution

The first priority was the replacement of the conventional fire detection systems and evacuation equipment. The requirement was the implementation of a system that provided a high degree of self diagnostics and reduced the ever increasing maintenance costs. An important factor was the need to replace the now defunct mosaic 'tiled' mimic panels which were used to provide a graphic display of the fire detection equipment layout of the facility with a computer based graphical user interface (GUI).

Equipment from both local and international companies was evaluated together with the level of ongoing support available from the many fire detection systems installation companies. A primary requirement for any system was international system approval. Being aware of the intent by the South African authorities to adopt the British Standards for fire detection systems it was felt that any system chosen must not only comply with international standards but required formal approval and certification from the recognised testing bodies. Having set this criteria; it was pleasing to find a South African company that not only complied but in many instances exceeded our expectations for reliability and functionality, having achieved international recognition and several international approvals for its system. As a result of this research we selected the ZP range of fire detection and control equipment from Ziton.

The Ziton computerised fire detection management system (Maestro) was installed in the computer centre, a central control facility, and was linked to four Ziton ZP3 analog addressable control panels located throughout the facility, this configuration enabled localised control of the various fire detection devices installed such as smoke and heat detectors and manual alarm devices whilst providing a simple and responsive graphical display of the devices at the central control facility.

At the time the PA/evacuation system was installed, there were no formal standards in South Africa for this type of safety equipment. This situation changed in 2004 when South Africa adopted the European standard for such systems (EN60849). As a result of this the fully compliant Praesideo digital PA and emergency sound system from Bosch Security Systems was selected and installed.

The third and possibly most important component of the system was the selection of a reliable fire suppression system. The continuous operation of the computer facility is absolutely critical to the Bank's business and fire is a serious risk potential to these operations.

A fire suppression system which was safe, cost effective and had proven fire extinguishing capabilities was needed. An overriding criteria was the need to select an extinguishing medium which was environmentally safe and could be recharged in South Africa thus eliminating the costs and time delays associated with the use of an imported extinguishing product. Once again, emphasis was placed on the need to select a system which had achieved international approval at both component and system level as this would guarantee continuous and reliable operation for many years to come and would gain acceptance by our insurance authorities and result in a reduction of the continuously escalating insurance premiums.

After many months of research, the clean agent, Argonite, was selected as the preferred fire suppression system. This system is currently in the design phase and is scheduled for installation within the next six months.

The benefits

The benefits of the upgrade to date have been extensive. Peace of mind knowing the systems installed have undergone extensive development and testing to achieve the necessary international approvals remove any concerns regarding its ability to reach when required. The reduction in ongoing maintenance and support costs have been considerable and the management and monitoring of the systems provide rapid reaction to any possible fire hazard that may occur.


Having researched and selected the technical solution the next challenge was the selection of installation companies that possessed the ability to design and install both the fire detection and suppression system to a high standard. The company was looking for companies that employed personnel with a proven track record in the implementation of such systems. It was also essential that the company chosen had the 'in house' ability to design and support the fire detection systems without total dependence on the equipment supplier for this support, which was a situation the company constantly faced.

Experience had proven that only a limited number of companies met the selection criteria and we therefore elected to release the initial tenders to a limited number of companies.

A 'turnkey' approach was being sought, with a preference to appoint a single company to provide the entire solution to our problems.

A staged approach was adopted using the initial installations as the benchmark for the planned future installations.

The services of a reputable fire consulting company had been utilised for many years and this company was appointed to prepare the tender documentation and oversee the selection and implementation process.


Phase One of the project has been successfully completed, which was the replacement of the fire detection and evacuation systems and using the selection process referred to above, we have recently appointed the same company to undertake the design, supply and installation of the gaseous fire suppression system.

The company is extremely pleased with the process to date and while it is understood that the replacement of the Halon 1301 fire suppression system will create even greater challenges for facilities management personnel and the systems contractor, the manner in which the process is being handled provides us with a high degree of confidence.

The risks associated with any possible malfunction at the computer centre are severe and while upgrades to both the fire detection and suppression simultaneously would have been preferred, the client believes the phased approach adopted has been correct. This decision has been validated because of the pro-active roll played by our fire consultant and support we have been given by the installation contractor - Masc Fire Systems.

There can be no doubt that the decision to select products that had achieved international recognition and approval has been the cornerstone to the success of the overall project. The support the three major suppliers, Bosch, Chemetron and Ziton, have provided to Masc Fire Systems has been invaluable and Masc's ability to evaluate and recommend improved solutions has reduced any possibility of our making serious errors along the way.

If there is one recommendation to be made it would be the use of a proven and approved product and the essential need to research the capabilities and experience of the systems contractor.

Fact File

Masc Solutions, Mike Smiles, 011 609 1775, Fax: 011 609 1776,


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