Can Wireless Alert Systems Save Lives, Property at Construction Site Fires?

Raymond O’Brocki

March 16, 2021

Why Joseph Cervantes Believes the Time is Now for This New Technology

In January, we hosted a webinar on fire safety and prevention, and our esteemed guests provided valuable and essential information on specific issues like fire safety plans and the important role played by Fire Prevention Program Managers.

But during that discussion, one of our panelists, Joseph Cervantes, touched on an emerging new technology he believes can save lives, reduce property loss by expediting fire service response times to construction site fires after hours. So, I thought it worthwhile to reach out and dig a little deeper and allow Joseph to explain the benefits of temporary wireless alert systems, how they work and why they should be considered for use on construction sites.

Q: Hey Joseph. Thanks for agreeing to talk with us about this technology, which is relatively new to the U.S., and give us a sense why you believe it could be a game-changer for construction fire safety. Why don’t you start by telling us what kind of difference this technology – and temporary fire protection – can make in terms of helping protect the safety of construction workers and the surrounding communities?

A: Well, first, it’s about identifying the high-risk areas on construction sites, places we know, and statistics show, fires originate. So, that means hubs where combustible materials are stored, hot-work spaces, on-site cooking areas or spots where fuel, tools or cardboard is stored. Those are the obvious places we would identify to pinpoint protection.

But this technology is perfectly suited to be placed throughout a project, such as multiple spots on each floor or stairwells. We recently installed the devices throughout a 40-story high-rise project in Florida in just two hours. It’s fast to deploy, can be placed anywhere quickly and can grow or contract with different phases of the construction project. 

Ultimately, the wireless device’s detection capabilities, the fact they operate 24-7 and their ability to send alerts via text message speeds the process of fire notification to those who need to know and can act accordingly. As you know, any hiccup in notifying the fire service just gives the fire more time to grow, intensify and cause more damage to the structure and surrounding buildings.

You can’t always stop a fire from happening, but you can alert people about it faster and more efficiently, and to get the fire service there sooner to stop it from spreading and causing more damage.

Q: So, give us a little more detail and description of this technology?

A: In simplest terms, this temporary wireless alert system is an encrypted mesh network of small sensors that can be placed in multiple locations through a construction site with minimal effort to maintain and test. These devices are equipped with heat sensors that trigger alerts and notifications when the temperature reaches 135 degrees. The smoke sensor is designed with dust protection to prevent from false alarms in a dusty construction environment.

Each wireless device is equipped with three-year batteries, rated for outdoor use and fully functional underground as well as in high-rise projects.

When triggered, the wireless beacon provides 90 decibels of alert tones, nearly as loud as a rock concert. I would argue that these alert tones are louder and more effective than the air horns commonly used to alert on-site crews of an emergency.

These devices have a visual strobe and can also provide a medical alert function if full site evacuation is not necessary. They can be outfitted with a cellular sim card, enabling the master controller to send text messages identifying the exact location of a problem to as many as six individuals or safety personnel at a construction site, or an application for global coverage with pinpoint accuracy geotagging at each jobsite.

The systems can also be connected to a conventional dialer to alert a central station and can interface to an existing alarm panel if a retrofit is taking place. Finally, these devices can also monitor sprinkler or domestic standpipes for moving water.

Q: Ok, well I’m going to wrap this up with one final question. As we all know, construction projects, especially on the developer side, often come down to the issue of dollars and cents. So, what is the cost-benefit analysis of using a wireless alert system?

A: The bottom line is this technology is affordable. A basic system can be purchased and installed for anywhere from $3,000 on a small deployment to $30,000 on some mid to-high-rise applications for the duration of the project. And, the beauty is this product is re-useable. Compare that if you will to the price of paying for human-led fire watch. Do the math. Hiring fire watch for a 16-month project for one guard service individual at $50 per hour can cost up to $11,000 per month, which pencils out to about $175,000 to project completion. With an average of 3,000 residential new construction fires per year, according to NFPA, this approach doesn’t seem to be working very well.

About Joseph Cervantes: Joseph is the Business Development Manager, Western USA, for Space Age Electronics based in Massachusetts He has more than 25 years of experience in fire protection, low voltage system installation, and project and operations management. He is a member of the California Automatic Fire Alarm Association and Southern California Fire Protection Officers, among other fire safety organizations.