Fire Alarm Signals – What Are They?

How many times has your Fire panel annoyed you with a beeping “alarm” going off? Many people don’t realize that panel “alarms” are not actually alarms at all, they are often supervisory and trouble signals – how can you tell the difference?

The Difference Between Alarm, Supervisory, and Trouble Signals

Alarms are simple – they are saying “Hey! There is an actual fire event happening in your facility! GET OUT!” These signals can be created by a smoke detector, manual pull station, or a sprinkler system being activated. Regardless of what caused the alarm, this is what will set off the notification devices that get people to evacuate the building and prompts the system to call for emergency fire response.

Supervisory signals indicate that investigation into your fire systems is needed immediately – don’t worry, the threat is not serious enough to cause an alarm yet. These signals can come from a duct detector that activates, fire alarmor a fire sprinkler device has been tampered. Address the issue before it causes potential damage.

Trouble signals on the fire panel show that there is something wrong with the fire system, but not quite an emergency situation. It could be a problem with the wiring, a broken device, or something wrong with the fire panel itself. Trouble signals are many times minor issues that do not rise to the level of needing immediate emergency repairs.

How Do I Know Which One Has Been Set Off?

An “Alarm” signal will have a red light or LED lit on the fire panel and there will be a steady tone sounding fromFire safety the panel. Also, any notification devices (horns, bells, strobes, speakers) will be activated. In every case when the system is monitored, the fire department will be dispatched.

A “Supervisory” signal will have a yellow light or LED lit on the fire panel and there will be a fast beeping tone sounding from the panel. There should not be any notification devices going off.

A “Trouble” signal will also have a yellow light or LED lit on the fire panel and there will be a slower beeping tone sounding from the panel.

With any of these signals, most fire panels will also have a digital display that will tell you what type of signal is active. With analog (programmable) systems, the display may also show you the exact location of the issue.

How to Respond to Each Signal

If there is an Alarm on your fire panel, you should always make sure that all personnel is evacuated from the building and is safe and accounted for. Following that, immediately contact your fire service provider to dispatch a service technician.

For a Supervisory signal, you should call your fire system service provider immediately. Depending on what the specific issue is being displayed, your provider should be able to determine whether it requires immediate service or inspection

With Trouble signals, you will want to call your service provider, but it can wait until normal business hours. There is no need to spend extra money for an emergency after hours service call.

Knowing what signal your fire panel is displaying and how to respond is very important. It will help you to understand what steps to take and can potentially save your company time and money.


  1. It’s good to know that trouble signals deal with minor issues that don’t need emergency repairs. My uncle is trying to replace his fire alarm system this year. I’ll show him this so he knows what to look for.

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