The Old North Church in Boston is the spot where two lanterns were hung to notify Paul Revere that the British had arrived by sea and the war for independence was on. These days, however, its staff sought better notification in the event of a fire in either the main building or the church’s gift shop.
The facilities director, vicar, sexton, and other staff members at the Old North Church in Boston's North End know a thing or two about the power of fire. It was here in this church's steeple where, on April 18, 1775, Sexton Robert Newman hung two lanterns to announce to Paul Revere that the British had arrived by sea and the war for independence was on. The people who work at this Episcopalian church today understand that, just as two lantern flames ignited a revolution, fire could also have a disastrous effect on this treasured facility, with its history, architectural beauty, an active congregation of 150 members, and hundreds of tourists visiting on a daily basis from all over the world.

Built in 1723, the Old North Church had relied for too long on antiquated fire safety equipment. In fact, until recently, the four buildings that comprise the church "campus" used one outdated master box to connect the church to the local fire department. Said Bob Modica, a sales consultant for Congress Alarm, "I'd be surprised if the black master box they had in their lobby even sounded an alarm." With the need to protect two row houses, three floors each, housing the church office and foundation organization, another building that is home to a gift shop, plus the church itself, this facility needed a system that could determine the exact location of a fire.

The Solution

To modernize their fire safety system, Carl Hoss, the church's facilities director, called on the aforementioned Congress Alarm. Modica determined that the church needed a complete overhaul. He specified a MS-9200 addressable fire alarm control panel from Fire-Lite Alarms (Fire-Lite is a division of Honeywell) for the main building and a Fire-Lite MS-5024 fire alarm control panel for the gift shop.

"An addressable panel costs a bit more than a conventional panel," Modica explained, "but I felt it was a wise investment for the Old North Church since there are so many different rooms and the facility was difficult to zone by area. With an addressable panel, you can provide the fire department with more accurate information, pinpointing the exact location of the problem."

Because of its smaller size, the Fire-Lite MS-5024 conventional panel was recommended for the gift shop, instead of an addressable panel. That panel features a built-in communicator, remote-site upload/download capability, and 3A of notification appliance power (expandable to 5A), making it ideal for the dimensions of the space.

The complete life safety system installed by Congress Alarm also included Fire-Lite manual pull stations at every exit and heat detectors in the kitchen, boiler room, and basement hall, plus a number of smoke detectors, horn strobes, and sprinklers. Fire-Lite M-300 mini modules were used to make the sprinklers addressable, allowing Congress to monitor where sprinklers had been activated and if water had begun to flow.

Congress' UL-listed central monitoring center is located in downtown Boston, and is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Upon receipt of signals from the Fire Lite upload digital alarm communicator transmitter, Congress personnel can quickly interpret the information received and dispatch the appropriate fire department and individuals. Being able to receive each individual point at the central station enables Congress personnel to pass this vital information on to the fire department.

The Results

According to current sexton, Howard Williams, the church has been thoroughly satisfied with the Fire-Lite fire alarm technology. He recalled, "Once, there were people working on the organ and they set off the smoke detector. The fire department arrived in three minutes." This is particularly impressive given Boston's infamous traffic snarls. Williams also said that the church was struck by lightning a few years back and the power went out, but the Fire-Lite system switched to battery operation and continued its vigil. With the Fire-Lite equipment keeping watch, the staff of this church, which once kindled the beginning of our fight for independence, is free from worry - they know that visitors and parishioners are protected and history is safely preserved.ES