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Safely Out to the Ball Game

​WHEN A NEW BALLPARK was built for the Toronto Blue Jays’ Double-A affiliate team, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, in 2005, a fire detection system was put in place that used proprietary technology that only one company could repair and maintain. As the years passed, the facilities manager became frustrated at the system’s constant problems, his inability to fix them, and the mounting cost of repairs. Last year, the stadium went looking for a replacement and struck a home run.

The New Hampshire Fisher Cats Stadium, which was rechristened the Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in January 2011, is located in Manchester, New Hampshire, along the banks of the Merrimack River. Annually, the Fisher Cats play 72 games in the stadium, which can hold about 9,000 people, but that is not all the excitement that happens there. The facility includes a bar and grill, two clubhouses, a grounds shop, 32 luxury suites, and a 300-person picnic area. It is the scene of corporate outings, charity events, comedy shows, and concerts that have included performers such as Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, Live, and Collective Soul. The complex also includes locker rooms, administrative offices, kitchens, and warehouses. An estimated 360,000 people visit the stadium each year.

The old proprietary fire system included three fire alarm control panels known as boards, and one main panel located in the administrative offices. Shaun Meredith, director of facilities and turf at the ballpark, who was hired by the stadium four years ago, quickly became frustrated with the aging system. Meredith recalls that “two or three times a week, the board would be beeping away that something was wrong…. It might beep for two or three days before somebody would come out and stop it, but there was no clear message to say it was water getting into a strobe light or anything like that…. [I]t was a constant battle to make sure the fire system was up and running properly.”

Even the annual maintenance didn’t seem to help. The company would do the work and say everything was in order, but the main board would start beeping again before long.

A coup de grâce was dealt to the ailing fire system in October 2011 when a freak snow storm dumped a foot of heavy, wet snow on New England. Power was cut off to millions in the region. “When they brought our area back online, it caused a power surge that fried some of our main fire panels,” Meredith states. The cost of repairing and replacing ruined parts in the system “was very close to the cost of a total replacement. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Fortunately, the stadium’s fire alarms were still functioning properly, and it was off-season. “The ballpark wasn’t being used, so we had the luxury of being able to research and pick what we wanted. If we had been in the middle of a season and in a couple of days there would have been 6,000 people in there, we’d have had a much tougher decision to make, and quick,” Meredith says.

Bids for a new more reliable and surge-resistant system were sought in November 2011. The stadium ultimately rejected several proprietary systems in favor of the nonproprietary Fire-Lite alarm system by Honeywell Life Safety, based in Northford, Connecticut.

Meredith says that they did some research “and found it is a good brand and… as for cost and effectiveness and universality, it was almost a no brainer. You couldn’t beat it.” Among the selling points were that it was not proprietary, so many vendors could be qualified to service it, rather than only one; the system’s major hardware components had recently been redesigned to increase its ability to withstand power surges, and the boards featured color-coded LED lights that clearly showed where any problems were occurring and when servicing was needed.

The stadium selected fire alarm and security system integrator Capitol Alarm Systems, Inc., of Penacook, New Hampshire, to install the technology. “The owner of Capitol Alarms was very helpful and knowledgeable. He sat down with us and answered any and all questions we had about the new system and how it worked—making comparisons between it and the system we already had,” Meredith states.

The installation took place in the early months of 2012. “At that time of the year, we’re getting back into baseball mode and getting the stadium ready,” so it was the optimal season to be undertaking the work, notes Meredith. However, it’s also the time of year when the stadium’s sales staff is on the phone booking seats, luxury boxes, special events, and more. Meredith was impressed with Capitol’s consideration for the sales force.

“They would say that in such and such a time frame on this day they would be testing and it was going to be loud and the lights would be flashing. They gave us plenty of time to prepare for it,” he says.

Meredith was also impressed by Capitol’s meticulous labeling of zones, pull stations, and locations on the new boards, which had not been done adequately on the old equipment. “That has made it a lot more user-friendly for us.” Further, “Capitol included us on a lot of things…. They’d call us over and explain to us what they were doing and how it might be different from the previous system,” which was very helpful since we had never been given any education on the old system.

They also explained the law and “what we are and are not allowed to do… and then walked us to each of the locations to show us the changes in design…and gave us the opportunity to ask questions,” Meredith explains.

Capitol also made sure that as the old system came out and the new one went in, there were never any gaps in coverage. “They made sure that whatever they took out, it was replaced that day,” he states.

Meredith says that, as with any large-scale installation of technology, “there were bugs here and there that needed to be worked out, but they were addressed immediately. For example, the amperage of the horn strobes had to be lowered. “It was just small tweaks and adjustments.” At the conclusion, “The fire department inspected it, tested it, sounded off every single alarm in the ballpark, and everything passed with flying colors.”

One aspect of the new system that Meredith appreciates is an automatic email notification system. “If any component of the system fails, I immediately get an e-mail…. I can go right to the board, check it, and call up Capitol Alarms and say, ‘Hey, looks like the suite level on the right side shows a horn strobe in trouble,’ and they can come right out and fix it in an hour.”

While Meredith does not want to speak about the costs of the Fire-Lite system, he does state repair and replacement part costs will be cheaper going forward. “We’re creeping up on a full year with it here, and we haven’t sunk any more money into it. With the old system, there were little things here and there and calling out for service—those costs add up. In that way it is a return on investment.”