Fermilab is home to hundreds of buildings, most of which are equipped with fire protection systems. They include fire alarms, a sprinkler system and a suppression system.
Fire protection systems are in place for two purposes: to help protect Fermilab property, and, more importantly, to help protect the people at Fermilab.
The most common type of fire protection system, and the one that most at Fermilab will quickly recognize, is the fire alarm system.
Fire alarm systems are designed to give early warning to a building’s occupants so they have enough time to reach safety. All Fermilab buildings equipped with fire protection have at least one pull station, the little red box near almost every exit. These are the only devices that require manual operation, and they’re easily activated by pulling down on the front lever.
Sprinkler systems help protect the infrastructure of the building. They can extinguish a fire but are more commonly used to prevent a fire from spreading.
Suppression systems work fundamentally like sprinkler systems but use dry chemicals or wet agents to suppress fire. At Fermilab, they help protect equipment and experiments such as NOvA, which is located underground.
A device you may be very familiar with is the smoke detector, which is designed to trigger the fire alarm system automatically once smoke has entered the smoke detector’s sensing chamber.
The Fire Systems Maintenance Group is located at Site 38 and is tasked with the maintenance, service and inspection of all the lab’s fire protection systems and the devices attached to them. They are a 24-7 group and are in constant motion to keep the fire protection systems operating properly.
Time and time again, you will see them at your building inspecting the fire protection systems, since each system has to be thoroughly inspected annually. This includes activating the audio-visual devices that have a strobe light effect and are usually very loud. The inspections may be inconvenient, but remember that they are being conducted to ensure you are safe and protected.
A good practice: If or when a fire protection system is activated, try to also activate a pull station at the exit you are leaving from in the building. This will ensure that the fire panel receives multiple alarm signals. It is an extra measure to ensure the fire alarm system reports the activated alarm to Fermilab Dispatch.
A fire alarm system is designed to provide early warning to occupants in a building so they have enough time to reach safety.
Sprinkler systems protect the infrastructure of the building they are in and can contain or extinguish a fire.
Suppression systems protect equipment and infrastructure are designed to release a dry chemical or wet agent to suppress or suffocate a fire.
Andrew McDaniel is a senior technician in the Fermilab Fire Systems Maintenance Department in FESS. Kimberly McDaniel is a member of WDRS’s Office of Education and Public Outreach.