The technology incorporated in new buildings is continually evolving, particularly when it comes to MEPF scopes of work. One of the latest and most exciting developments that contractors are working to master are Firefighter Air Replenishment Systems (FARS). FARS are standpipes for replenishing firefighter air tanks during emergencies, much like the standpipes that supply water to fight fires.
Imagine you are a firefighter ten stories up a smoke-filled building when your air tank drops to 20% capacity. You need to get out quickly. What if you could refill your tank at once and continue your mission? FARS makes that happen! This newer capability dramatically reduces the risk of a firefighter left stranded without air and
it allows them to focus on an emergency by reducing travel time up and down a building – improving safety and efficiency.
While cities across 21 other states require FARS, Bellevue is the first in the Puget Sound region, mandating FARS in all new high-rise buildings and transportation tunnels over 300 feet long.
In 2015, the International Fire Code Appendix L introduced FARS. The City of Bellevue adopted this code for projects that applied for building permits in 2018 or later. Now, a few years have passed, and those large high-rise projects that obtained permits in 2018 or shortly thereafter are nearing completion. GLY recently completed the commissioning process for a new office development in Bellevue, making it one of the first in our region to incorporate this system.
In the three-building office development mentioned above, bottle fill stations are provided on every third floor above grade and on selected garage levels below grade. Air is provided from large storage tanks and distributed at 6,000 PSI via stainless-steel piping to each fill station. A special mechanical room contains compressed-air storage tanks, a booster pump, and an air quality monitoring system to make sure that firefighters are always breathing clean air. Piping is routed through special two-hour rated phenolic conduit to air filling stations in stairwells and fire rated closets.
The team faced a learning curve and some expected challenges, given the novelty of this technology in both the industry and the region. Here is what to expect when integrating FARS on future projects:
- Only one supplier, Rescue Air, provides FARS throughout the United States. Early engagement with their team is crucial for a predictable construction process. GLY and trade partner Western States Fire Protection worked with Rescue Air early in preconstruction to optimize the design, plan the work, and keep costs under control.
- For optimal protection, the equipment needs a minimum two-hour fire rating in the mechanical room, conduits, and supply closets. This requires extensive coordination with affected trades – especially to ensure accurate fire stopping details at every penetration.
- FARS integrates with a building’s fire alarm system and monitors the air quality. Designers of both the fire alarm system and the FARS must coordinate during the design phase to ensure the monitoring points are included in the fire alarm system’s shop drawings.
- Installation sequencing requires a thorough understanding of FARS’ requirements relative to other MEPF systems well in advance. This is particularly important when coordinating installation of the phenolic conduit for the stainless steel piping.
- Calibration poses a challenge because FARS is relatively new technology in both the industry and the region. The initial commissioning may involve some trial and error, but this learning experience paves the way for a smoother process in the future.
- Currently, there is only one way to replenish the main storage tanks – an outfitted truck from Rescue Air. Accounting for access points to the filling station early in design is a must. In addition, building owners will need to account for system servicing in their overall operations and maintenance costs.
If you’re curious about FARS and want to learn more, please reach out to me, or visit www.rescueair.com. Big thanks to Western States Fire Protection for delivering a high-quality installation and for their leadership in advancing this emerging safety feature, which plays a crucial role in keeping our first responders safe!