Abseil enabled VESDA installation service



VESDA very early smoke detection aspirating systems are becoming an increasingly standard aspect of a fire prevention strategy, but fitting them can be problematic. Like many organisations, Imperial College needed a cost-effective approach to retrofit a VESDA system within its large, high-walled boiler room. By combining its fire detection expertise with some lateral thinking, ISD-Tech developed an elegant and unique solution.


Consistently rated among the world’s best universities, Imperial College London is home to 14,700 students and 8000 staff focused on the key disciplines of science, engineering, medicine and business. But despite its global reputation for technology, the university needed additional expertise to resolve an increasingly common fire safety challenge.

Like many organisations, Imperial wanted to enhance its existing fire security capability. It opted to add a very early smoke detection aspirating system (VESDA by Xtralis) to maximise safety, ensure regulatory compliance and minimise insurance premiums. Three large-scale boilers in the basement serve the whole campus but fitting the multilevel detection equipment in the boiler room presented a major logistical challenge.

As with many large industry-scale environments where the aspirating pipework has to be retrofitted to high ceilings, inaccessible or hard-to-reach places, specialist birdcage scaffolding was required. But due to the prohibitive cost, Imperial College turned to ISD-Tech to explore alternatives.


After considering a wide range of options, the ISD Tech team developed the industry’s first abseil-enabled VESDA installation service – an innovative approach using trained technicians to fit the equipment while working off rope access. Using conventional methods the cost of the scaffold to fit the VESDA system would have been circa £90,000, whereas the cost of abseil-enabled access was under £17,000.

A detailed methodology was developed to determine every step in the procedure and eliminate any potential risk. After plotting and fitting 180 anchor points to the ceiling slab, the abseil technicians were able to install the VESDA air sampling copper pipe network. All rope configurations were precisely engineered to adhere to the minimum requirement for safe anchorage conforming to ISO 22486 & IRATA ICOP.

In addition to the core VESDA system covering the main boiler room area, a secondary system was installed to cover low-level extract ducts / grilles. Smoke aspirating panels were located outside the protected area. Two separate air sampling pipe systems were surface-mounted and securely fixed parallel to the building lines and across the front of the extract grilles. The solution is accredited by the independent fire protection industry body BAFE to its SP203-1 standard and is fully BS5839 compliant.

“When we put out the tender to install a VESDA by Xtralis solution, we were concerned about access to the ceilings and how to overcome the cost and logistical challenges without compromising safety. By combining its fire detection expertise with innovative thinking, ISD was the only vendor to propose a viable, cost-effective alternative to the conventional use of birdcage scaffold. From concept to installation, ISD Tech took a partnership approach, working closely with our team to plan every aspect of the design and implementation. We had a small window of opportunity during the summer recess to carry out the installation ready for the start of the academic year. Knowing nothing had been left to chance, we had every confidence that the installation would be completed safely to ensure full compliance with all our requirements.”



The abseil-enabled solution reduced the installation cost five-fold, making enhanced VESDA-grade safety and fire protection more affordable and easier to achieve. With full installation and commissioning completed within three weeks, the ISD Tech solution delivered multiple benefits, including:

  • Improved fire safety protection for students, staff and premises to the highest quality and regulatory standards
  • A significant reduction in installation, operating and maintenance cost and complexity
  • A fully risk-assessed system with lower insurance premiums
  • Open protocols to enable seamless integration with equipment from any manufacturer including life safety, heat detection, disabled refuge call points and voice alarm systems.