In 2019, Spain recorded 165 deaths due to fires or explosions, according to the study “Victimas de Incendios en España” (Victims of Fires in Spain), drawn up by the Mapfre Foundation and the Professional Association of Firefighter Technicians. These incidents often occur in spaces with fire prevention and protection systems that are obsolete or not even operational, of which the users of the building are often unaware, as they are passive systems, unlike the elevator, lighting or air conditioning, whose functionality is practical and visible on a day-to-day basis.

To update these safety elements, the company TFS of the Amper Group, a manufacturer of intelligent pressure control systems, has reached an agreement with Prosegur with the aim of promoting the digitalization of these fire prevention and protection devices. "We are updating these systems that are controlled as they were in the 19th century, by means of on site and physical maintenance checks, and bringing them into the 21st century. The reality is that many people have a false sense of security," says Rubén Rodríguez, manager of Prosegur’s Fire Engineering area, "In recent years, all of the technological developments have focused on fire detection, but not on fire extinguishing. So, to test and check the installations, we could only send technicians to the site."

More control of fire protection installations

To address this shortcoming, a system has been developed to monitor 24/7 the pressure gauges [a device that records the pressure status of the devices] of the facilities that house water for fire extinguishing, notifying anomalies directly to the user via a mobile application or via the Internet. Until now these facilities were controlled by checking a needle that marks the pressure and readings were done manually on site.

The system has four patents and installations in fourteen countries. Prosegur and Amper began implementing it last June in Spain. It also allows them to predict maintenance and to plan it. "It sends the information to the cloud, and it is distributed to all users. We monitor pressure rises and drops and the customer can check his system via the Internet. In the event of an alarm due to a pressure rise or drop, they are notified," explains Carolina Vilas, TFS manager at Grupo Amper.

"A valve might be closed, and it shouldn't be, or installations might not have water or have water but not with enough pressure. Unfortunately, it is quite common and there could be a leak anywhere. In the industrial world all of this is more controlled, but in other types of premises the installations are not so well maintained," says Rodríguez, who gives as an example the pressure gauges of fire hydrants.

Digitisation also allows us to monitor the correct pressure of each element, whether someone has used it or not, or the water level it has. According to Vilas, "We are currently introducing it to some key customers. We have started to digitise specific sites that are important to these companies, and we plan to implement it across the country by 2022. These companies want to be more efficient, provide better customer service and have the facilities in good condition 24 hours a day."

Francisco Aviles, professor of Foundations of Architecture at the European University, has pointed out that home automation systems are gradually becoming popular and being increasingly used in homes and buildings, however, with regard to prevention, progress has essentially been stalled. In this field, the Internet of Things (IoT) will also enable us to know how many people are inside a building in the event of a fire, where they are located, where the fire is located, or to organise the evacuation in the most efficient way.

But, in fact, from a regulatory point of view this level of monitoring is not required. According to Aviles, " as its installation is not yet mandatory, many companies still regard it as an extra cost and not as an added value. In any case, a residential building is not the same as a company; for the latter, being at the forefront of innovation is important."

For the professor, the problem lies in the fact that this type of systems are only used in the event of breakdowns or incidents, which is why people are reluctant to make the investment, despite the fact that in 2019 firefighters carried out more than 129,000 fire interventions in Spain, 34,029 of which were in offices and 19,661 in homes, according to data from the Mapfre Foundation and the Professional Association of Firefighting Technicians.

Aviles believes that digitalisation is the only way to reach the goal of zero fire deaths or injuries: "We need to make it mandatory from a regulatory point of view. Make people aware of the benefits. We all think it will never happen to us, but the day it does, we will regret it," he says.

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