growing interest from NHS hospitals in recent years. Recently, we were involved in a project at a mental health unit in the South of England where, during an inspection, the Care Quality Commission had identified the risk of the unit’s conventional smoke detectors being tampered with and used by patients to harm themselves. In response, the hospital’s management team extensively researched the market for anti-ligature fire protection devices, attended a presentation by Apollo, and visited our test laboratory to see the Soteria Dimension Specialist range in action. A total of 18 Soteria Dimension Specialist devices were installed at the unit, providing the facility with the highest standards of fire protection, while reducing the risk to patients.

Minimising disruption

Having considered the risk of tampering and self-harm as factors that need to be allowed for when designing fire detection systems for mental health facilities, I want to focus finally on installing fire detection systems in settings that are home to vulnerable people, such as the very elderly, or those with dementia or learning difficulties. Where vulnerable occupants are involved, installation needs to be quick and easy, with little disruption to everyday routine. Moving a patient with dementia out of their room in a care home, for example, even if just for a short period, can cause distress, so a sensitive approach is required. Similarly, some individuals with learning difficulties struggle to cope with disruption and changes to their environment.

Our wireless XPander detectors are ideally suited to this type of application, as they are very quick and easy to install, without the need for disruptive and time- consuming cable fitting. The range includes sounders which can be set to the correct decibel level. The sounder visual indicators incorporate audible and visual signalling within one unit, so the most appropriate one for each area can be chosen. The individual detectors, call points, alarm devices, and interfaces, communicate with the Apollo addressable loop using radio signals. Every XPander product is assigned an address which is recognised by the fire control panel, in the same way as the address of any hard-wired device.

A quicker or a ‘bespoke’ solution The speed at which wireless devices can be fitted means that residents do not need to vacate their rooms for long, and installation engineers do not get in the way of the carers. It’s clear that there are several questions that should be asked


Apollo’s Soteria Dimension Specialist detector incorporates a ligature- resistant metal faceplate and tamper-resistant screws.

when choosing fire detection for facilities that care for those experiencing mental health issues or other conditions that make them more vulnerable. To ensure that the best product is chosen for each application, consideration must be given to the environmental conditions and location the detector will operate in, the type of detector best suited to those conditions and, importantly, the characteristics and requirements of the occupants using or residing in the property. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to fire detection, and Apollo works closely with fire officers, installers, and end-customers across the UK to identify the best bespoke solution for every project.

The Static Systems standpoint As a specialist in the design and systems engineering of fire alarm systems for healthcare environments, Static Systems Group has a proven track record in providing solutions for the protection and well-being of vulnerable patients. Alex Southall, the company’s Proposals Manager (Fire Alarm & Custodial), says: “As is always the case when designing a fire detection system, patient safety is our

first priority, and in a mental health environment, design principles must take into consideration the particular, and sometimes unique, needs of the service-users and staff. “The importance of early and ongoing consultation with the client cannot be underestimated, as this will ensure that the system is designed to meet both the operational needs of staff, and the safety and security needs of the facility’s patients. These requirements, of course, have to be considered alongside the relevant standards and codes of practice that apply. A variety of factors need to be considered at the earliest stage in the design process, including whether patients may be prone to violence, whether there is a risk of self-harm, and whether alarm sounders and visual warnings (on beacons) may cause undue panic or unrest among more vulnerable patients.

Consider an early warning system “When designing fire alarm systems for mental health facilities, we often advise clients to consider some form of early warning system to avoid the disruption of an alarm or potential evacuation. In this situation, in the event of an alarm, staff could be immediately alerted through other systems, such as the call system or a pager unit. Staff would then have an agreed amount of time to investigate before either moving to full alert if required, or standing down the staff team and resetting the alarm if no further action is required.

“The visual impact of fire detection devices needs to be taken into consideration in the system design. Most smoke sensors incorporate pulsing LEDs to indicate that they are functioning. This can cause concern or annoyance to some patients, particularly if they are fitted within a confined space such as a bedroom. In this situation, it might be appropriate to consider disabling the LED indicator so as to avoid unnecessary concern.

The hi-tech Soteria detector utilises ‘the very latest’ optical sensing technology in a ‘virtual sensing chamber’, which sits outside the detector, and operates on the light-scatter principle.


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