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Results From a Full Scale Smoke Alarm Sensitivity Study.

pdf icon Results From a Full Scale Smoke Alarm Sensitivity Study. (219 K)
Cleary, T. G.

Suppression and Detection Research Application: A Technical Working Conference, 13th Annual. SUPDET 2009. Proceedings. Fire Protection Research Foundation. Feburary 24-27, 2009, Orlando, FL, 2009.


smoke detectors; sensitivity; experiments; fire alarm systems; scenarios; fire tests; chairs; smoldering ignition; heat sources; electric batteries; smoldering; low density foams; cotton fabrics; bedrooms; living rooms; high density foams; polyurethane foams; cushions; photoelectric detectors; ionization detectors


A series of 24 full-scale experiments was conducted during the summer of 2008 to examine the effects of alarm type (photoelectric, ionization, and dual sensor), alarm location, fabric type (100 % cotton and 100 % polyester), polyurethane foam density, ignition scenario, and room configuration, on smoke alarm performance. A two-level, fractional factorial design of eight experimental configurations was developed around the five factors: fabric type, foam density, fire location, ventilation, and ignition scenario. A structure, designed to represent a single-story home or apartment, was constructed inside the Large Fire Laboratory at the National Institute for Standards and Technology for the experiments. The fire source was a chair mockup consisting of a seat and back cushion of a specific cover fabric and foam density, weighing between 5.5 kg and 8.3 kg. It rested on a metal frame and was subjected to a small propane gas flame, or an electric cartridge heater to initiate smoldering. Each experimental configuration was conducted three times. Smoldering fires were allowed to progress until they naturally transitioned to flaming fires except for one test that was terminated early due to time constraints. The smoldering to flaming transition times ranged from (81 to 182) min. Each fire progressed for a time sufficient to produce multiple hazards (smoke, heat, and toxic gases). All alarms tested were purchased from retail outlets and activated at their preset levels. Photoelectric, ionization, and dual photoelectric/ionization alarms were co-located at multiple locations to facilitate comparisons of each alarm type, and different designs of the same type of alarm. For smoke alarms in the room of fire origin, it was observed that each of the five factors had an effect on the measured alarm times that was primarily a result of fire growth rate (fabric type, foam density, and ignition scenario), or smoke dilution (fire location and ventilation). The photoelectric alarm responded quicker on average than ionization alarm in two of four smoldering fire configurations, responding before the ionization alarm in all 6 trials, while the ionization alarm responded before the photoelectric alarm in two of three trials for the other two configurations. The ionization alarm responded quicker on average than photoelectric alarm in all four flaming fire configurations, and responded before the photoelectric alarm in all 12 flaming fire trials. One dual alarm had the fastest average alarm time for all four smoldering fire configurations, and responded first in 11 of the 12 trials. It also yielded faster average alarm times than the other dual alarm in seven of eight configurations, and was the first dual alarm to respond in 22 out of 23 trials where dual alarms were present.