An often-expressed concern of fire fighters around the world is their unfamiliarity with the information made available to them with fire detection panels as they enter a building responding to a fire. Now, through an international cooperative effort, a major step has been made, creating an operator interface screen for fire detection systems.The most critical information fire fighters wish to know as they rush to respond to an alarm includes: Where is the fire? Where are we in relation to it? How do we get from here to there? What will we find when we get to that location? Fire fighters and fire marshals are also interested in learning if the alarm was sent by a smoke detector, a heat detector, a waterflow detector, or a manual station because that helps define the type of event they’re going to encounter. And, of course, they would like to know the types of hazards that are present in the area, and the people typically in this area of the building who may need help in getting out.In general, the fire-alarm industry has done an excellent job of building intelligent detectors that respond quickly. But it has not done as good a job in terms of presenting information about the building and about the fire events to the fire fighters responding in an emergency.Now, a new, intelligent fire detector system brings generous amounts of understandable information into the average system without the cost of a PC. The new system offers considerably more of the information that fire officials say they require. Its bigger, better six-inch standard screen is the largest in the industry short of a computer.This improved operator interface screen communicates in hundreds of easy-to-read, large-text characters, eliminating the need to abbreviate, and displays up to five events simultaneously using standard hazmat icons for safety. It employs shading to highlight critical information and two type sizes for emphasis, with further information easily accessed via a lighted “More Info” button. Simple graphic maps are incorporated for clarity. Also available are standard NFPA fire safety symbols to provide information about the type of fire service equipment available in the alarm area.Besides the first responders, the operator interface had to accommodate several other levels of users. For building operators, everything was made easy and step-by-step, as close as possible to intuitive.The new system stresses ease of installability and service, reducing overall installation time and total life-cycle cost of the system to the user and installer. It features a well-thought-out, color-coded-hardware layout and quick-disconnect wiring terminations. Intelligent device wiring is polarity-insensitive, and existing lines can be used helping to reduce installation costs and minimize the disruption of business associated with installing new conduit and wire in existing buildings.Siemens Fire Safety involved the fire community and other leaders in life-safety in the conception and design of the system, to make it better, faster, and easier for fire fighters and fire marshals to use. It is intended that this new FireFinder generation of detection systems will be an important step toward an industry-standard user interface. Clear, easy-to-use, and virtually intuitive, it will inform and enhance the safety of fire fighters around the world.Brian O’Mahoney is director product marketing, Fire Systems at Siemens Fire Safety, Florham Park, NJ, a division of Siemens Building Technologies Inc. (www.sbt.siemens.com).