Copied below are posts from Dome-L in 2011.
2011 Nov 16
From: Jenna Knittel
Sent: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 8:31 AM
To: Alice Enevoldsen
Subject: RE: Site Visit to look behind the planetarium
1. Do most have fire sprinklers in the dome? How do they conceal them?
Or do they just have it on the exterior hoping the water goes through?
Or we also have heard of pre-action systems?
2. How do they handle smoke and heat detection? Are there any smoke or
heat detectors within the dome? If so, how do they "blend" them in? Or
is it just on the exterior with the hope that the smoke and heat travel
through the screen?
3. Is there any past experience with providing fire sprinkling and fire
alarm systems to these spaces?
BCE Engineers, Inc.
2011 Sep 30
Hey Mark in Palomar College,
Whatever you do, DO NOT get a deluge system for your new D4. On horribly wrong advice, one was installed at my college, the College of San Mateo. Only a few weeks after our new GOTO CHRONOS Hybrid system was installed in early 2007, the blasted deluge system went off near the end of my astronomy lab, due to a sensor malfunction. The 5 remaining students and I were immediately soaked and ran screaming out of the dome. I was quite a sight, standing outside the planetarium, wringing the brown water from the deluge system out of my Harley T-shirt. I got the worst of the drowning, since I wanted to make sure the students were out and our laptops were protected by the continuing deluge. The system did not stop until there was no more water left in the system. Water ran out of the planetarium into the corridors of our building and the carpets and seats were soaked. Of course, our new Hybrid was toast. The CHRONOS drowned, since it was down in the pit, which was flooded. The console took a direct hit from one of the sprinklers. But, thanx to Ken Miller, we were back online 1 year later with a new CHRONOS Hybrid and a NORMAL sprinkler system, mounted just under the spring line. For a while afterward, I endured lots of 'umbrella in the dome jokes'.
As for the exit signs, I did pretty much what Karl did at De Anza. His installation is only 15 or so miles south of ours in San Mateo. We put one sheet of a relatively thick red gel, obtained from an artist supply store, to dim our signs. We put the gel inside the housing, so you can't tell anything is different. This works great, in that the exit signs are easily visible, without being too bright, during a show.
Here's a link to our astronomy department:
If you click on the link, you will see a slide show at the top of the screen and in two of the slides, you will see the inside of our planetarium. If you look carefully, you can see the glint of the sprinkler heads right below the spring line and our exit signs. The sprinkler heads are pretty unobtrusive.
College of San Mateo
San Mateo, California
2011 Sep 27
Fires can be put out without water. I've seen fire extinguishers that deprive the fire of oxygen. Some sort of gas that quickly quenches the fire.
Has anyone looked into that option for inside the dome? Might be possible....irregardless of the audience's need for oxygen of course.
The Glenfield Planetarium
2011 Sep 27
In the discussion about fire sprinklers in domes, it's important to know
that your local fire chief is the significant person to deal with
regarding what will and will not be allowed in his town or city.
Architects, building owners, planetarium staff, and even audience
members have very little if any say in what will be accepted. So it's
best to choose one person on your team to establish a rapport with the
fire chief very early in any project. Planetariums are "strange beasts"
to your local chief, and you can be pretty sure that he's never had to
certify one in his past. So help him make the right call.
His primary, looming, GIANT concern is for human safety. He is not
concerned with the building, except to keep its air safe to breathe and
to keep it upright until the people can exit. He is not concerned about
equipment in the building except to make sure it doesn't ignite and burn
up the people or fall over and block their egress. He doesn't care
about the quality or quantity of what you are showing in your dome as
long as he can ensure the maximum safety of the people in the dome.
It's all about the people. So always think like he does.
He looks at combustible materials, and wants to put water on them in the
event of a fire. OK, let's look at what's combustible. Behind a modern
planetarium dome the hemispherical screen is metal, the speaker supports
are metal, and almost no electrical power is flowing around, especially
compared to the old days when we stacked hot slide projectors on wooden
shelves, ran power cords willy-nilly, and often used the space behind
the dome to store extra ticket stock, boxes of old files, and excess
So there is realistically very little need to blanket the above-dome
ceiling with sprinkler heads. Even if they went off, their water would
simply run off the dome due to the slope and surface tension across the
tiny perforations in the dome's metal surface. The result would be a
ring of water puddling at the edge of the dome, but no water getting to
the area where it could do any good in protecting the people in the
So sprinklers must deliver their water into the dome's interior. Inside
your dome, modern fire codes limit the flammability of the carpets, wall
treatments, and upholstery. Your various projectors are metal and glass
with a little plastic, and will not support significant combustion
themselves. Probably the most combustible material in your dome is the
people's clothing! But let's just say that to ensure human safety, if
everything inside your dome gets very wet, very quickly, your sprinkler
system is doing its job.
At this point, the question becomes "through-the-dome or from the
walls?" We all know that penetrating the dome really messes up your
projection screen's ability to disappear. So you really must convince
your fire chief that sprinklers from the walls are best. Deluge systems
all go off at once, pushing water into the system upon command from one
or more sensors in the theater. The College of San Mateo incident was a
case where a faulty command system accidentally discharged tons of water
into the dome. That's bad. But be very, very assured that every one of
the humans in that dome at the time were 100% wet, 100% safe from fire,
and 100% able to evacuate the building. That's good.
So, join your fire chief in wanting maximum safety for your visitors.
Pay a little extra for the best control system on a through-the-wall
deluge system, and everyone will rest easier at night. There are
systems that require two or more "trigger" signals (such as heat+smoke)
to reduce the chance of false alarms and discharges. Look into them.
And also know the quickest way to reach your sprinkler system's shut-off
valve..... Good luck, stay safe and stay dry!
GOTO USA Liaison
346 ILIMANO ST.
KAILUA, HI 96734
2011 Sep 27
That's right. I have been waiting for Darrel Stanford from
the College of San Mateo to respond to this message. He and his
students had to literally wade out of the planetarium after their
deluge system went off - for no reason! It's quite a story. Their
brand new Goto Chronos and E&S digital systems were totally ruined.
It was a year before they were back in operation. They no longer have
a deluge system.
We have dealt with the exit signs by placing red or neutral
density jells in the sign housings until the signs were at a
non-intrusive level. In our first attempt to dim down the signs, we
had the jells on the outside of the housing when the fire marshal
came around. He saw the jells and asked what was going on. I thought
we would have a problem, but when I told him that they were too
bright during shows and could be seen easily even though they were
dimmed, he said "that works for me!" What a relief. I don't know that
all fire marshals are that easy, but with the jells on the inside,
they probably won't notice as long as you don't make the dimming too
Karl von Ahnen
De Anza College
2011 Sep 27
I'm writing today with a concern for exit signs and sprinklers under both domes. Obviously, we don't want light pollution from the exit signs to spoil the night sky, nor do we want sprinklers piercing the domes and ruining all these precious electronic equipments with water! So my question is: can you share ideas about how to avoid having signs and sprinklers, or how did you manage to reduce their intrusion (for example, by dimming the exit signs while a show was in progress)? I'm especially curious to hear from those who recently built or renovated their theatre and had to confront these issues.
Pictures of your installations and written report from Fire marshals in your area would help immensely. We want to build a strong case with examples from as many planetariums in North-America as possible, to convince our own Fire marshal that there are solutions that ensure the well-being and security of our visitors, while preserving the pristine night sky, the dome and the equipment.
You can reply off-list if you so wish, but I think this conversation might interest a lot of Dome-L readers!
Planetarium de Montreal
2011 Sep 27
We are just wrapping up construction of a new planetarium at Palomar
College. It will be a tilted 50-foot dome with forward facing
seating. We will be using a Digistar 4 projection system along with
full-dome presentation video technology.
All information and pictures of this project can be found at:
Although I cannot address the exit sign lighting (frankly I can't
remember what our solution was for the light issue and keeping with
code requirements) I can speak to how we solved the sprinkler issue.
The dome will have a "deluge system" for fire suppression. Along the
perimeter wall that supports the dome, there are pipes every 4 feet or
so along the outside that will stick through the wall with a valve
head protruding into the theater. In the event of a fire, the system
pumps a massive amount of water that will spray out into the room
horizontally to extinguish any fire that occurs. This way the theater
meets all fire code requirements without having sprinkler heads
protruding through the dome.
Feel free to contact me off-group if you have any other questions I
can help you with.
Associate Professor of Astronomy
1140 West Mission Road
San Marcos, CA 92069
Sep 27, 8:28 am
2011 Sep 27
How the fire codes are enforced vary but in our dome we have sprinklers
up behind the dome around the edges. We were able to do that because we
convinced the fire inspectors that the audience wasn't likely to burst
into flames. We still objected to the water sprinklers but to no avail.
I had asked about waterless systems but I think that was exactly the
concern - that those systems (ie Halon) would deprive the audience of
oxygen and were expensive. I'm not sure if anyone has come up with a
better, cheaper alternative that would be considered safe for audiences.
49 Washington Street
Newark, New Jersey 07102
2011 Sep 27
While we were renovating, one of the contractors suggested that
method. It was shot down because of the hazard it would pose to
people in the dome. For some reason, those pesky customers insist on
being able to breathe.
We did end up with a deluge system located around the perimeter of
the dome (on the wall, no sprinkler heads through the dome
itself). There's a cable going around the theater just below the
cove lights, into the control room & spiraling behind the dome
itself. In theory, in order for the sprinklers to go off, that cable
has to melt through AND at least one of the sprinkler heads has to be
triggered. So, no single event, but two that have to happen. It
won't go off if someone simply trips the fire alarm. That's already
happened and, thankfully, no sprinkler activity with the false alarm.
Gloria A. Villalobos
Director, Robert J. Novins Planetarium
Ocean County College
PO Box 2001, College Dr.
Toms River NJ 08754-2001
2011 Sep 25
Aren't the deluge systems kinda like the nuclear weapon of fire
Even if there is a fire, if they go off, the fire is doused but your
equipment is destroyed by water damage. You might as well let it burn to
the ground for the insurance money!
A planetarium here NJ was nearly wrecked by a false alarm - IIRC San
Mateo in CA has to replace their brand-new GOTO star projector due to a
49 Washington Street
Newark, New Jersey 07102
2011 Sep 25
True, the thought of a deluge system makes me cringe, but I am not aware of another way to satisfy fire suppresion code requirements without having sprinklers protruding through the dome. There is no central star projector to get damaged, most of the expensive equipment will be located in a server room separate from the theater, with projection coming from the perimeter.
Of course I hope that it never comes down to the "nuclear option" - especially for a false alarm!
* Mark R. Lane
* Associate Professor of Astronomy
* Planetarium Director
* Palomar College
* 1140 West Mission Road
* San Marcos, CA 92069
2011 Aug 23
Back when I was at another facility, the planetarium was surrounded by
curtains. They actually said "Fireproof" on the curtains but there was
no "official" documentation with them. Even after the fire inspector
tried to set fire to them with a Zippo lighter and they wouldn't burn,
it was determined that without documentation, they could not be
considered fireproof. We then had to spend $1000.00 every year for a
company to come in and spray fireproofing on the curtains each year.
Ironically the spray is probably toxic and far more dangerous to kids
than the fire its meant to prevent!
2011 Aug 23
Strange stuff those fire codes.
Back when I was at another facility, the planetarium was surrounded by curtains. They actually said "Fireproof" on the curtains but there was no "official" documentation with them. Even after the fire inspector tried to set fire to them with a Zippo lighter and they wouldn't burn, it was determined that without documentation, they could not be considered fireproof. We then had to spend $1000.00 every year for a company to come in and spray fireproofing on the curtains each year.
The next year I was told that I had to take down all of my planets and spacecraft that were hanging from the classroom ceiling, and remove all the posters from the walls. According to the fire inspector the flames could jump up to the ceiling and the items could then burn and fall on the kids. When I told him that museums have ten ton space capsules hanging from the ceiling, and that there wouldn't be any kids in the building by the time the flames were jumping up to the ceiling, he still said that all of my hanging items and posters would have to be removed.
At that point I told the fire inspector that all of my stuff was to motivate the kids. He said it didn't matter. It was against the codes. I then said; "well when your daughter comes to the planetarium next year and asks what happened to all my planets, spacecrafts, and posters, I will just tell her that your Dad made me take them down". At that point he looked at me and said: "I see your point. Everything looks good to me. The building passes inspection"!
Steven LJ Russo
Director, East Kentucky Science Center & Planetarium
Big Sandy Community and Technical College
One Bert T. Combs Drive
Prestonsburg, KY 41653
2011 Jan 6
Las Vegas is very strict on fire code. When we retrofitted our building for sprinklers, the Fire Marshall wanted the sprinkler heads to come through the dome. After much negotiation, we compromised with side-throw sprinklers just under the cove. I had had a previous experience when I helped Santa Fe NM open their theater many years ago. They had the sprinklers through the dome (hazard of designing a theater without an experienced planetarian available). The sprinklers had a blow-off caps that supposedly matched the dome, but did not quite match. These caps did not interfere much with the star field, but were very obvious when distended images were projected over them. I would hate to see the effect they would have on a dynamic full dome image. Ask your local Fire Marshall if they consider placing sprinklers through the screen in a regular movie theater. I would bet the answer would be no. In a like manner, the dome is our screen.
:-) Dr. Dale Etheridge, Director
2011 Jan 8
This issue was addressed with an alternative fire alarm system in our dome, called Vesda. The Vesda system is utilizing air sampling sensors instead of sprinkler heads. The sensors are located behind the dome as the dome is transparent to smoke. However, it is little expensive to maintain.
2011 Jan 7
We installed a Vesda system as the option and have not found maintenance to be overly expensive. Certainly much better than having sprinklers!
A few years ago we had an alarm when forest fires were nearby and at another time when there was a huge dust storm from central Australia which was severe enough to coat everything with red dust. But at least the result was just an alarm and not water!
Science Centre and Planetarium
2011 Jan 7
We had the exact same conflict with our fire safety inspectors when we were designing our dome, and reached the exact same solution (after much effort) in terms of a side-shooting "deluge" system.
Don't EVER let someone tell you that you have to put sprinkler heads on your dome!
Seth Jarvis, Director
Salt Lake City, UT
2011 Jan 3
Posting for Jeff Bowen:
As you know we design 10-20 domed theater projects per year.
Some are renovation/upgrades and many are new construction.
We have current project where the fire Marshall will only waive the idea
of cutting sprinkler into the dome if we have some testimonials from other
Owners who have had this done and who think it is a bad idea.
Of course, in none of our projects have we ever allowed sprinkler to be
cut into the dome.
We have specified alternate solutions and have thoroughly explained why
this should not be done, but they want to hear from you.
I would appreciate hearing from any and all of you who can contribute to
solving this for this Owner.
-- Jeff Bowen
Portable Domes and Fire Regulations
Portable Domes - Fire Regulation Issues
2011 Aug 23
At least here in New Hampshire, we were told that testing by the state was
not acceptable for a "structure"?! like an inflatable dome, it had to be
from the manufacturer, and if the testing from the manufacturer was not
acceptable then the dome simply can not be used in the state of New
Hampshire. At least that's what we were told.
In general, I think the lesson here is that different
departments interpret the codes very differently and enforce them to
different levels. I guess my suggestion would be that if you're going to be
using the dome in one jurisdiction much of the time, I would look to open a
dialoge with the fire martial *before* the dome is purchased. My experience
has been that having a good relationship, and talking with them ahead of
time makes them much happier, and my experience is that they tend to be more
willing to work with me, then when plans are locked in place before they
find out. This is experience mostly not related to domes, but to various
special event setups - however my experience has been that if you go in with
a gentile, friendly, open atitude, then the FD will work with you to make
what you are trying to do work in a way they can sign off on. Of course,
2011 Aug 23
I've got the manufacturer's test results on the fabric, but apparently
that's not good enough...we must have our "balloon" registered and
tested by the state "Division of Amusements "!!
How amusing (not!).
49 Washington Street
Newark, New Jersey 07102
I do not have a certificate per se, but I do have lab results to show
and I do have a swatch of material they could use if they really want to
test it themselves.
2011 Aug 21
Back in the day I had a certificate attesting to the fire resistance of the
material the Starlab dome was made of. I did have a few districts who
wanted to see that paper, and it did satisfy them. Unfortunately all that
material is no longer in my possession, but perhaps another ex-Starlab rep
still has it, or perhaps the present ompany who sells the Starlab can
I wish I could be more help.
2011 Aug 21
> Has anyone else had any trouble with
> fire codes and portable planetarium domes?
The University of New Mexico's fire marshall forbid us to use a
prototype dome that was acquired through a grant consortium. As a UNM
project, that meant we couldn't install it any where (not just on
campus.) I think the 'death sentence' resulted from a combination of
the dome's early development stage (not all documents and procedures
in place) and a particularly conservative (and cantankerous) marshall.
And certainly my advocacy failed to make the difference. But it's an
important lesson in the need to have documentation and procedures well-
in-hand before investing or launching a program.
I experienced another challenging set-up at SIGGRAPH 2005 when Sky-
Skan and UNM partnered with SIGGRAPH to install a (one-off) 30ft
negative pressure dome at the LA Convention Center-based conference.
The Los Angeles fire marshall was extremely demanding of documentation
and on-site evaluation before we were allowed to open it to the
public. A week of installation and a huge opportunity to share
fulldome with the world's greatest CG artists and filmmakers was
hanging on the marshall's decision. We got the go-ahead and had a
week of long lines and wowed audiences, but it was a nerve-racking
University of New Mexico
2011 Aug 19
Do you have any extra dome material, perhaps sent for patching
purposes? If so, you could look into sending that off to the state
fire safety lab and let them try to light it on fire (in other words,
do the tests they need to do to certify it safe).
We've not had any customers who have run into this issue; as Bob
Hayward mentioned, the fire retardance certificate usually does the
trick. In my six plus years of travelling around Washington state with
a Starlab, I only had to show the fire retardance certificate once,
and that was enough to satisfy the fire marshal.
However, at some conferences I have had issues with setting up our
inflatable dome in the exhibit hall. For one conference I had to have
another application of fire retardant applied since the convention
center required that to have been done within the last year. For a
couple of other conferences I had to send off fabric samples along
with a copy of the fire retardance certificate. The Baltimore
Convention Center (where ASTC is being held this October) is requiring
booths with inflatable domes to have a smoke detector and fire
extinguisher inside the dome, just in case.
In other words, the requirements vary quite a bit. I think getting the
state lab to test some of the fabric themselves would be the best
route to try. If that's not enough, you could offer to have a smoke
detector and fire extinguisher inside the dome during lessons.
Karrie Berglund, Director of Education
Digitalis Education Solutions, Inc.
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