The effect of altitude on typical combustible burning and related smoke detector response signals was investigated by comparison experiments at altitudes of 40 m and 3650 m based on EN54 standard tests. Point-type light scattering photoelectric smoke detectors and ionization smoke detectors were used for four kinds of EN54 fire tests, including two kinds of smouldering fires with wood (test fire no. 2 in EN54 standard or TF2) and cotton (TF3), and two kinds of flaming fires with polyurethane (TF4) and n-heptane (TF5). First, the influence of altitude or ambient pressure on mass loss for smouldering combustion (TF2 or TF3) was insignificant, while a significant decrease in the mass burning rate was found for flaming tests (TF4 and TF5) as reported in our previous studies. Second, for photoelectric smoke detectors in flaming fire tests, the effect of altitude was similar to that of the burning rate, whereas for the ionization smoke detectors, the response signal at high altitudes was shown to be 'enhanced' by the detection principle of the ionization chamber, leading to an even larger value than at normal altitude for smouldering conditions. Third, to provide a reference for smoke detector design in high-altitude areas, the differences between signal speed in rising and peak values at two locations are discussed. Also, relationship between ion chamber signals and smoke optical densities are presented by utilization of an ionization smoke detector and smoke concentration meter. Moreover, a hierarchical diagram is illustrated to provide a better understanding of the effects of altitude on combustible burning behaviour and the mechanisms of detector response.
Keywords: EN54 test fires; burning rate; high altitude; response signal; smoke detector.