Detection challenges in mental health facilities

Paul Pope, head of System Integration and Technical Support at Apollo Fire Detectors, highlights the challenges associated with fire detection in mental health facilities, and explains how the latest detection technology is helping to overcome them. Also sharing his views on designing fire alarm systems for mental healthcare facilities is Alex Southall, Proposals manager (Fire Alarm and Custodial Solutions) at Static Systems Group, a long-term customer of Apollo which itself specialises in the design and systems engineering of fire alarm systems for healthcare environments.

The fire detection market continues to evolve, offering specifiers and installers an increasingly sophisticated array of technology to choose from. Keeping up to date with new technology is only one part of providing first-class fire detection; one of the biggest challenges to anyone working in the industry is deciding which technology is most appropriate within a building’s design. The overall objective will always be to save lives and protect property, and so to ensure the most reliable protection, the type of fire detector must be considered in relation to the environment in which it will be used. There are certain more complex scenarios that, understandably, present specific challenges when it comes to fire detection, and this is certainly the case when it comes to designing fire detection systems for mental health, or healthcare facilities for particularly vulnerable patients. I’d like to consider three specific challenges, and the factors that must be considered when designing a fire detection

system to meet these. The first is where detectors are at a high risk of being tampered with by patients, the second where patients are at risk of self-harm or suicide, and the third where residents are considered vulnerable due to learning difficulties or certain illnesses, such as dementia.

Reducing the risk of detector damage

Tampering with fire detectors can have catastrophic consequences, putting lives at risk by delaying the discovery of a fire. There can be many reasons for occupants tampering with or vandalising detectors and, unfortunately, other than placing warning signs on or near to the detectors, there is little that can be done to deter individuals from damaging detectors once they are in place. Consequently, the only real way to minimise the risk is to make the detector tamper-proof at the design stage, which is what we at Apollo sought to do when designing our recently launched

Soteria Dimension product range. Soteria Dimension, and its Specialist variant, were designed and manufactured in response to demand from architects, system designers, and installers, for a flush-fitting alternative to traditional fire detectors. The hi-tech device utilises the very latest optical sensing technology in a ‘virtual sensing chamber’, which sits outside the detector, and operates on the light-scatter principle, so the detectors can be completely flush- fitting to the ceiling without a protruding smoke chamber, making them more resilient to interference or damage. The Specialist model encompasses all the technology seen within the standard Soteria Dimension device, but is even more resilient to interference, as it incorporates tamper-resistant screws and a steel face plate. If either device is covered, for example with tape, the proximity sensors will give a fault signal at the control panel, indicating a proximity alert. Each of these design elements have been incorporated into the detectors to reduce the risk of tampering or damage and keep occupants and staff safe.

While the risk of detectors being tampered with is present across a wide range of environments, the chances of them being used by occupants to harm themselves is elevated in mental health facilities.


A safe solution for high-risk patients While the risk of detectors being tampered with is present across a wide range of environments, the chances of them being used by occupants to harm themselves is elevated in mental health facilities. The requirement for a ligature-resistant detector was very much front of mind for Apollo’s product designers when developing Soteria Dimension Specialist, which incorporates a ligature-resistant metal faceplate in addition to the tamper- resistant screws. This detector has been tested and approved for ligature-resistant certification to TS001, and meets the requirements of the Ministry of Justice specification STD/E/SPEC/038. Both device variants have surpassed the requirements of European Standards EN 54 Part 7 and EN 54 Part 17. At Apollo we have seen a marked increase in demand for ligature-resistant devices from mental health facilities, and


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