News : Calls ‘Could Have Been Lost’ During 911 Call Center Emergency
Lawrenceville, GA, Jan 7, 2015 -- What triggered the gas-producing fire suppression system at Gwinnett County’s 911 call center Monday, sending five workers to the hospital, remained a mystery a day later.
How exactly that system can squelch a fire without water, and why it’s used in the call center — those are easier questions to answer.
When activated, Gwinnett County fire department spokesman Capt. Tommy Rutledge said, systems like the one in question release a gas called heptoflorapropane, or FM-200, from the ceiling and floor. The gas disrupts the oxidation process that is necessary for a fire to grow and sustain itself.
"The product does not put the fire out by reducing the oxygen concentration," Rutledge said. "It puts the fire out by disrupting the chemical chain reaction."
That said, the agent can reduce oxygen concentration in the room or building in which it deploys, and evacuation is encouraged.
The fire suppression system went off at the Lawrenceville call center at about 10 a.m. Monday, emitting the odorless gas and triggering medical issues with a handful of workers. Unharmed emergency operators were relocated and answered calls in the county’s mobile operations center and inside Gwinnett County police headquarters, and off-duty operators were also called in to lend a hand.
Smith said Tuesday that emergency operations were at least partially down for about five minutes Monday "while the 911 lines were transferred to the temporary phones."
"911 service was never cut off completely at any point, but calls could have been lost while the transfers occurred," Smith said. "It occurred during a relatively quiet part of the day with low call volume."
The call center was reopened at about 5:30 p.m. Monday. All five employees were released from the hospital Monday afternoon.
There was no fire in the facility, Smith said, and authorities were still attempting Tuesday to figure out what triggered the system.
Fire or not, the 911 center uses the gas-emitting set-up for a simple reason.
"The system installed in the building that houses the 911 Communications Center is designed to protect electronics," Smith said in an email. "The building also houses the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). A standard water based fire suppression system would damage the electronics."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Gwinnett County’s 911 Call Center :
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Published: Thursday, January 8, 2015