At CVTC: Building-in-a-building provides fire-testing scene
EAU CLAIRE – Frying hamburgers were left unattended on a stove top until they began to burn, with alarms going off and smoke filling the air, and that wasn’t the only time a fire hazard happened in an Eau Claire apartment during the first week of December.
Blankets were left near a space heater, a burning cigarette was thrown into a trash can, and a fork was left in a microwave.
But everything was under control. The apartment was inside the Fire Safety Center at Chippewa Valley Technical College and the hazards were created intentionally.
Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) constructed the one-bedroom apartment inside the burn room of the Fire Safety Center building, in order to test a revolutionary new line of fire safety equipment designed to prevent fires instead of just detecting them.
It is one of the most unique uses of the Fire Safety Center since it opened in 2014.
“OneEvent Technologies has developed a predictive analytical system that looks at fire alarm systems in a different way,” said Jim Zirbel, vice president of markets for the company based in Mount Horeb. “Fire alarms detect problems after something has happened.
“The product, called OnePrevent, detects potential problems based on environmental changes. It allows one to go in and prevent an event rather than react to one.”
OneEvent is planning a major product launch in the coming weeks, but first, the company needed to do some extensive testing in real-world conditions.
For that, OneEvent turned to Eau Claire-based CVTC. (CVTC has one of its campuses in River Falls)
The Fire Safety Center includes a 50’ X 50’ burn room with thick concrete walls 30 feet high and a ceiling lined with fireproof tiles. Fans and vents tightly control the air fueling a fire and a foam fire suppression system is on hand if needed.
The room is large enough to construct a small apartment inside, creating the ideal conditions for OneEvent’s test.
“They came to us with a plan and said they wanted it to be as close to a regular apartment as possible so they can collect data on their system,” said Red VanErt, Fire Safety Center coordinator. “When we built the Fire Safety Center, we thought we might be doing something like this, but on a reduced scale.
“But they wanted full scale and we said we could handle it.”
Kim Nessel, the lead Fire Safety Center technician and Chris Turner, lead technician for this project, built the apartment, leaving some unneeded details unfinished.
“It would be almost impossible to duplicate this testing environment elsewhere,” Zirbel said. “We basically built a house inside the building.”
“This is the only place we know of where we could do this where we would have real-world situations,” said Kurt Wedig, co-founder and CEO of OneEvent Technologies.
OneEvent needed to duplicate real conditions because its products monitor real environmental factors and look for sometimes subtle changes that can signal trouble.
“We use sensors to monitor temperature, carbon monoxide levels, humidity, motion detection, and other factors,” Zirbel said. “The system learns what is normal in the environment, including certain recurring temperature changes. Knowing what is normal is absolutely essential to predicting.”
When the system detects abnormal changes, it sends an alert, such as a message to a smart phone, of a potential problem. Of course, when needed it also sends out a traditional alarm, which can include a direct notification to the fire department.
Wedig said the system has applications for home and business owners.
“We’re looking at commercial markets,” Wedig said. “We see huge applications for senior housing and hotels.”
Said Zirbel: “We’re testing a number of common fire threats, including a burning Christmas tree.”
OnePrevent also avoids sending out a full alarm during a normal situation. In a scenario familiar to homeowners, a traditional smoke alarm went off when normal cooking odors filled the room during the hamburger test. The OnePrevent system detected environmental changes, but did not sound a full alarm until the meat began to burn.
“The smoke alarm responding to a cooking odor is a nuisance alarm,” Zirbel said. “The person cooking the hamburger is going to get a stool, take down the smoke detector and put it in a drawer.
“Then you have no smoke alarm. OnePrevent avoids the nuisance alarms and lets you know of a potential event.”
Wedig said the company has already had a “soft” product release, but is preparing for a major release, with the final testing setting the stage. “We’re doing something no one has ever done before – creating a paradigm shift from reaction to prevention.”
Van Ert said the stage where the tests were conducted will be coming down. Undamaged materials can be disassembled and saved for possible future similar scenarios.
The Fire Safety Center was constructed through the use of grants from the Phillips Family Foundation and the CVTC Foundation, Inc. It is managed by CVTC’s Business & Industry Services, which provides worker training and other services for area businesses.
“This is one of only five such facilities in the world,” said Roxann Vanderwyst, director of B&I Services. “This facility allows local companies to do testing related to fire conditions. This is a unique use of the facility.”