(Close Window)
Topic: Smoke and fire alarms
Message: Posted by: sb (Feb 1, 2006 04:48PM)
When I do a larger show (on a theater stage) we usually use some form of intellegent lighting. And of course who wants to use all those cool lights if you can't see the beam of light through the air? ENTER THE SMOKE MACHINE.

Now, I have had people at the theater (or school) tell me that if I use a smoke machine it may set off the fire alarms. Now this would be bad...I really can't think of anything that would ruin a show like having to be evacuated. (Or ruin a reputation for that matter. Me thinks I would not get too many bookings from this show...."Yeah, Marge an I were at a show last week, and then right in the middle we were rushed out by the fire department, GREAT SHOW, until we ran out! lets book him for our huge fundraiser!")

Well I have used smoke machines and hazers in lots of theaters and seen even more smoke and haze machines in others shows. Never been evacuated tho... Now when I am told not to use the smoke, I don't use it. But if I am not told not to use it, then I do.

So......what is the deal with this. Will smoke from a smoke machine set off smoke and fire alarms? How about haze? If so, what should I do? I have actually read on a theatrical site that the cover alarms with a box and some gaff tape. (Needless to say, that sounds like a horrible solution! We won't be trying that, I can just imagine if there was a fire, and my insurance company went through and noticed that I had covered the fire alarms! Bet that would nullify my policy.) What do some of you do? Is there a certain type of fogger or hazer that I should use?

Lots of questions in a small paragraph, but thanks in advance....

Message: Posted by: Caveat Lector (Feb 1, 2006 10:07PM)
I have in the past on many occasions had the alarms turned off just for the duration of the show. This was done with cooperation from the local fire marshall and fire department. But, if you are in a regular theatre most of them have heat sensors not smoke. I know that this is not always the case but I would really check with the fire department to see if they can help you out.
Message: Posted by: silverking (Feb 1, 2006 10:49PM)
There are two types of sensors, "rate of rise" and "smoke".

The rate of rise is more commonly known as a heat detector, and fog or haze won't set it off. However, a smoke detector functions by detecting particulate in the air, and fog and haze do an excellent job of filling the air with particulate. Water or oil based fog, and any form of cracked haze will set off a smoke detector.

As mentioned by Caveat above, a professional venue will have a complete process in place to disable only those detectors onstage, in the fan room, and usually in any area under the stage as well. That process involves the fire department, the alarm company that monitors the system, and the venue staff.

In a smaller venue, it's very unlikely that they will have this process in place, and even more unlikely that they'll be able to turn off specific detectors, or disable the system without putting out a "trouble" signal to the alarm monitoring company.

So.....if they say you can't use smoke because it sets off the alarm and they can't do anything about it, they probably mean just that.
If you were to come into my venue and you informed me that you had fog or haze, I'd take all the steps above to allow you to use your effects in order not to compromise either audience safety, or the artistic integrity of your show.

As an aside, the building code usually won't allow "rate of rise" detectors in some situations where the location of the detector is above 20' off the floor (stage)....the code will specify that it must be a smoke detector.
Message: Posted by: socalmagic (Feb 4, 2006 12:53PM)
Hi Scott,

I will probably take some heat :) for this, but here it goes. I think covering smoke detectors is a great idea. It is much safer than disabling the whole system. I perform mostly in schools, where it is a very large campus, and if there is a fire in another part of the campus, then the fire watch may miss the fire. This actually happened to me at a school that had a small fire in the kitchen on the other side of the campus. Luckily, I only covered the smoke alarms on the stage, and the system was triggered as usual.

LA County Fire no longer allows complete systems to be disabled for this reason. There was a performance at a nursing facility with a fire watch, and there was a fire that the fire watch did not notice, and as a result several people died.

When you cover only the alarms on the stage, the risk factor is much less than disabling the entire system. You have a built-in fire watch with your crew (I have about ten people back stage). The rest of the facility is active, and you won't have to evacuate a facility.

Just some thoughts as to why a lot of performers cover the stage alarms.

Message: Posted by: silverking (Feb 4, 2006 05:49PM)
It's against the law to cover a smoke detector.

The liability of doing something like this could relieve you of your home, car, and all your cash.

If the venue doesn't have an existing plan involving the fire department, alarm company, and venue staff, tough luck......you can't use your smoke or haze.

If you think this through a bit, hopefully you'll see that offering this as a potential solution really isn't a very wise idea.
Message: Posted by: DanielSteep (Feb 4, 2006 06:11PM)
I use non-detectant fog juice which is non detectable to fire alarms and smoke alarms.
Message: Posted by: Frank Simpson (Feb 4, 2006 06:25PM)
I would have to echo silverking's advice. Covering a detector is simply not worth the risk on any level. I used to be the Tech Director of a theatre, and if you had tried this in my facility I would have been obliged to cut all power and evict you from the building. There is just quite simply [b]NO[/b] room to fudge on fire regulations.

If as mentioned above the detection system onstage can be independently deactivated in accordance with the local regulations, then you're in luck. You would be well-advised to have a "plan B" in case you are not allowed to use your smoker/hazer.

As to "non-detectant fog juice", I would think it to be a haze that dissipates rapidly. I would test it onstage well before the show. But even though it might test well the conditions can change with an audience in the house (more heat) and cause the smoke to lift faster than you had tested. Conceivably it could still set off a detector, but it would seem to be far less likely.
Message: Posted by: Grandillusionsmagic (Feb 4, 2006 09:32PM)
As said, new smoke detectors don't detect smoke, they detect particles in the air, so that would make it impossible to have a smoke that doesn't set off smoke detectors. Actually one year in theatre class as we got ready for our first production of the year the alarm went off, we had to evacuate and wait for the fire department. Anyway they determined that the alarm went off because when we closed the curtain the dust set it off. Evidently they sanded and refinished the floors, they cleaned everything but the curtains so when we closed them for the first time it sent too much dust in the air it set off the alarm. Anyway I have learned sense then that the alarms are like a laser, if the laser doesn't make it to the other side of the alarm it goes off. So if the cover weren’t on a balloon, fly, ball, anything can set off the alarm. Anyway it takes some dense fog to set it off, but it only has to be like that for a second and the alarm goes off. I know this is more than you wanted to know probably, but know you know.
Message: Posted by: Dan McLean Jr aka, Magic Roadie (Feb 5, 2006 05:43AM)
On 2006-02-04 13:53, socalmagic wrote:
I will probably take some heat :) for this, but here it goes. I think covering smoke detectors is a great idea. It is much safer than disabling the whole system.
As most of us know, tampering with a fire or smoke detection system is illegal, dangerous, reckless & irresponsible. As Frank has said, [i]"There is just quite simply NO room to fudge on fire regulations."[/i], and as silverking has pointed out, [i]"The liability of doing something like this could relieve you of your home, car, and all your cash."[/i]. It also must be pointed out that such practices [b]DO[/b] kill people.

Again, as quoted from our friend silverking, your venue needs [i]"an existing plan involving the fire department, alarm company, and venue staff"[/i].

Tampering with fire or smoke detection systems [b]DOES[/b] kill people. Don't do it.
Message: Posted by: Tony S (Feb 5, 2006 07:21AM)
Well said, Dan. It's just not worth it.
Message: Posted by: socalmagic (Feb 5, 2006 05:23PM)
There have been several posts that state it is illegal to cover smoke alarms. I'm not trying to stir the pot, but please provide evidence. I have the NFPA Bulletin, and nowehere did I read about covering alarms being illegal. I have secured many permits that include covering the alarms, and never has it been questioned by the fire marshall. In fact, many manufacturers include covers for their smoke alarms.

What is the difference between covering two alarms on the stage and shutting an entire school's system while students are in class? I am inclined to break the law and be safe than abide by the law, shut down the entire system, and risk counless lives. I'd rather lose my house and show than 750 children's lives. Because something is legal does not mean it is always safe, smart, or even moral.

I respect all of your opinion and am not attacking anyone, but please explain how it is safer to shut down an entire facility than just two alarms in an area that is easily watched. My typical stage is 30 feet by 20 feet. If there is a fire, my ten peope back-stage will surely catch it. In addition, almost every facility I perform in has NO plan for dealing with fog machines.

Message: Posted by: Dan McLean Jr aka, Magic Roadie (Feb 5, 2006 06:49PM)
I don't think anyone's saying it's illegal to cover/turn off detectors. As a matter of fact, we all seem to agree that this is possible.

I/we may have incorrectly read something into our original post. Your saying that you [i]"have secured many permits that include covering the alarms, and never has it been questioned by the fire marshall"[/i] seems to indicate that you're doing exactly as the law states, in that you're getting proper permits with proper approval. If you always have full permits, and if you always follow the letter of the law, then you're doing the right thing. It's not up to us, or to you, to decide which rules you'll follow. The law is very clear, and you have no legal or ethical alternative.

Again, if you always have permits, and if you always follow the letter of the law, then I/we may have misinterpreted your original post, and you're doing the right thing.
Message: Posted by: silverking (Feb 5, 2006 07:12PM)
In addition to what Dan has said above, nobody EVER authorizes that an entire alarm system be disabled.

I have switches on my main alarm panel which turn off specific smoke detectors, a total of six detectors out of a grand total of 115 detectors get turned off.
Turning off the six detectors does NOTHING to the rest of my alarm system, it's still protecting the entire building, and still capable of turning in an alarm to the alarm company.

A fog (or any) effect simply isn't worth even the slightest compromise in life safety.
Message: Posted by: kaytracy (Feb 6, 2006 12:10AM)
Gentlemen, I would like to suggest that ANY time you work with something that involves the possibility of having a fire detection system- and the associated suppression system- trigger, you should clearly speak with the local Fire Marshall first.
There are the NFPA that relate, in the US, to national standards, then there are local and state rules, regulations, laws, and thoughts on the matter.
These can vary county to county, and even city to city.
I urge you to take the time and speak with the local authority having jurisdiction to see what you can and cannot do- and what alternatives you have. They may be aware of something that will work for you instead.
I will say that yes, there are times when an entire system can be disabled, but they are very specialized circumstances, and they involve detailed coordination with the local fire authorities!
I can also say that some systems can handle a fair amount of "haze" with no issues- as when I am having air handlers tested for filter quality, the haze gets very thick in the room in question- and has yet to set off the fire systems. Ask questions- Ask about manufacturers or models and do a little google homework to find out. Talk to the maintenance person- they will likely have a bit more info on the infrastructure of the facility than the deskers.
Message: Posted by: Alexx Argen (Feb 6, 2006 10:45PM)
It is my opinion that older smoke/fog/haze producers set off fire/smoke alarms but I think the newer versions don't really set them off anymore.
Message: Posted by: silverking (Feb 6, 2006 11:12PM)
On 2006-02-06 23:45, Alexx Argen wrote:
It is in my opinion that older smoke/fog/haze producers set off fire/smoke alarms but I think the newer versions don't really set them off anymore.
Any smoke or haze generator running any brand of fluid and having released enough cracked product into the air will set off a smoke detector.

Further, newer machines actually crack the fluid even finer than older machines......this in turn makes the newer machines far MORE likely to set off a smoke detector as the finer particulate begins to appear to the detector more like real smoke as opposed to a fine liquid mist.
Message: Posted by: sb (Feb 7, 2006 03:00PM)
Thanks to everyone who posted! I think I will not be covering any detectors unless told to do so by a "higher authority" (ie fire marshall). But will speak with the fire marshall before my shows, and I will speak with the theater head, about any proceedures they have in place.

Thanks again to everyone for such a detailed answer!

Message: Posted by: James Adamson (Feb 8, 2006 10:05PM)
Having a NICET Level 3 in Fire Alarm Systems and selling and engineering Fire Alarm Systems as a Distributor for one of the top 3 Fire Alarm Manufacturers I can attest that most of the previous posts above are very accurate.

Older systems will probably be the tradition hardwired with multiple devices on one zone. Some of those types of systems the zone in question can be disabled.

The newer systems pinpoint the exact device that goes into alarm. These systems normally have the means to disable the device by individual point.

I would never put a cover back on a detector as experience has shown that many times they do not get removed from the device.

On a hardwired zoned system I would not disable the zone without authority from the AHJ.

Around my area most AHJs in a big city will allow an addressable system to have specific devices disabled. However most small cities and rural areas do not have an AHJ to whom the owner can get the approval from. In fact many schools have their systems not even powered up due to lack of maintenance and cost cutting measures (they will not admit that).

As to foggers, yes they will set off a smoke detector whether it be an Ion Detector or a Photo-electric Detector.

Also keep in mind the device that gets overlooked is a duct detector that is installed in the HVAC duct work. Many Cities have adopted the exception of allowing those type of detectors to cause a supervisory condition instead of a full alarm. An approved method of testing a duct detector is a Fogger Machine!

Also most schools are not required to have the Fire Alarm System monitored as the building is not fully sprinkled.

Always if in doubt get approval from others, REMEMBER what happen in the Great White Club incident. Verdicts from those cases are being handed down now.

Life Safety is not a game! Always get approval!

James Adamson
Message: Posted by: Jim Snack (Feb 9, 2006 07:48AM)
James makes an important point about lawsuits. Covering an alarm may (or may not) be against the law, but a jury in a criminal negligence or civil damage case would certainly not look favorably upon the action. Better safe, than sorry.