Wind turbines new vertical for ABCO Fire

Ohio company augments its hospital projects by protecting wind turbines in various locales
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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

CLEVELAND—This city is home to many hospitals, including the world renowned Cleveland Clinic, so health care is a major vertical for ABCO Fire Protection, based here. But the company also has expanded into a small but growing new niche: wind turbines.

“We’ve done some suppression systems in wind turbines, and actually I and one other guy are certified to climb the wind turbines, to actually get up in there and do the install and service on them,” Steve Rice, engineering systems manager for ABCO, told Security Systems News. “It’s kind of something unique that our company has.” 

He said getting up in the towers—typically on a ladder that runs inside the tower with his fall protection gear hooked to a cable—is challenging because they’re so lofty. One turbine he worked on was 300 feet tall, he said. “It’s 30 stories you’re climbing up. So it’s a lot of work,” Rice said.

He said that ABCO, a 38-year-old company with about 125 employees, has done three wind turbines in Cleveland, one for a manufacturer and two for Case Western Reserve University. ABCO also has completed a wind turbine job in Gloucester, Mass. and may take on one in Canada, Rice said.

Firetrace, a worldwide supplier of special hazard fire protection, whose headquarters in this country is in Scottsdale, Ariz., provides the suppression systems for the wind turbines and ABCO installs and services them, Rice said.

The electrical systems in the wind turbines can catch on fire so insurance companies are demanding suppression systems, Rice said. “They say, ‘You’ve got this $8 million wind turbine, how are you going to protect it?’”

Before a wind turbine is erected, a suppression system can be installed while the turbine is still on the ground, Rice said. But once turbines are put in place, he said, “we’re actually able to climb and retrofit a system onto an existing turbine.”

Work needs to be done at the top of existing towers because as the turbines age and their initial warranties run out, the owners “want to add systems onto them” to protect them, Rice explained.

ABCO’s current wind turbine work “is [currently] a tiny little niche we have,” Rice said. But he predicts it will grow. “It’s something that is going to get more common because [wind turbines] have been around for a while and everybody’s warranties are running out,” he said.

Health care is a much larger niche for ABCO, a Notifier by Honeywell distributor with six locations in Ohio and which also does work in Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Rice said 90 percent of the company’s business is fire related.

It has done work at the Cleveland Clinic but it also has been doing work at a Veterans Administration hospital in the city since 2006. Rice said the project is worth “at least over a half a million dollars for us and I don’t really see it stopping anytime soon,” because the hospital keeps expanding.

He explained that the hospital had an older Notifier system, so “we’ve done a major upgrade on all their main panels to bring them up to the latest and greatest that Notifier offers.” In addition, he said, as the hospital constructs new additions, “we’re tying them in to the newer systems, then adding more panels as necessary and then just kind of getting everything to work cohesively throughout the entire facility.”

Rice added that the work has been challenging because of the size and scope of the hospital. “We’ve got 21 nodes … and in the 21 nodes there’s seven panels, there’s three computer work stations that they have set up, there’s four network annunciators at different panels … [and] … 2,857 addressable devices and then there’s 127 separate messages that we play throughout the different parts of the hospital, depending on what area has the alarm. So it’s a pretty intricate system.”

Although ABCO does the installation work on smaller jobs, for such a major project, “it's a parts-and-smarts shop for us,” Rice said. “We provide all the Notifier parts, and all the programming and then we work with the electrical house, and they do all the install work.”

Good service helped ABCO land the job initially, Rice said. He said the hospital had problems with its fire alarm panel and its vendor couldn’t deliver parts and service on time, “So we were able to get them out of huge bind and get their panel up and running and they just appreciated our service,” Rice said. “… They needed it done now and most fire customers are the same.”