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.

Five Goals To Consider When Upgrading Your Fire Alarm

Imagine this fairly common scenario: Your facility’s fire alarm system has reached the end of its operational life. Constant troubles and service calls for the system are becoming a regular part of your life. Frustration and stress is heightened and the building’s maintenance budget is lowering. If this is the case, it’s probably time to upgrade the system. The first question you need to ask is whether you actually know what those organizational fire protections goals are. If you do not know, now is the time to investigate. If you find that maybe your organization doesn’t have any, then now is definitely the time to create some. The analysis of your organizational fire protection goals will center on the following 5 categories: life safety, property protection, mission continuity, heritage preservation and environmental protection.

  • Life Safety: The main focus surrounding your fire alarm system is providing life safety to the occupants of your building. Early detection is the absolute key to being successful in meeting this goal. Sometimes electronically supervising your fire sprinkler system is enough, while some situations may call for smoke detection, and others may need heat detection.  It is important to discuss your buildings needs with a firefire safety protection engineer to help determine the best methods for detection. Remember, the intent of this life safety goal is to provide early detection and early notification for the occupants of the facility and the responding public fire department. The more capable your system is in accomplishing this, the better. The protection of lives has to be the number one priority for any system upgrade.
  • Property Protection: With a property protection goal, building owners and representatives are seeking to limit the damage to the facility and meet all the insurance company’s requirements. Meeting this goal, property protectionrepresentatives of the building may choose to detect fires of a certain size or rely on the capabilities of an automatic sprinkler system. If the idea is to detect the fire before sprinkler system actuation, then the design of the fire alarm system will require more detection than building code’s minimum requirements for detection. Again, depending on the type of detection and the limits of the size of fire detected, limiting the extent of damage may provide equal benefits for the environment as the life safety design.
  • Mission Continuity: The goal of mission continuity is to retain your organization’s ability to keep business activities intact after a fire. The average building code fire alarm system design will not always meet this goal. The detail of the detection type needed to meet this goal, in a lot of cases, greatly mission continuityexceeds the design used for detection to meet a life safety goal. Fires cause intense and often irreparable amounts of damage. Having the proper types of fire detection gives your building the chance to have a fire stopped in the time necessary to prevent such damage. Not committing to strong mission continuity goal can lead to major costs and significant down time.
  • Heritage Preservation: In some instances an owner/representative could be dealing with a historic building. In these cases, the fire protection required for heritage preservation involves a detailed analysis of what elements inside a facility that need to remain intact following a fire. This will also impact how the installation is completed making sure the new fire alarm system is installed in a way that does not damage the building. Even if your facility does not have any historical significance, your building may have records or documents you will want to protect, often buildings with data centers may use fire suppression systems in order to protect the buildings important data saved on its servers.
  • Environmental Protection: When the goal of environmental protection is primary, the impact a fire could environmental protectionhave on the environment in certain types of facilities trumps other goals. A fire in a paint warehouse could cause an environmental disaster if the water runoff used during firefighting efforts contaminates the water supply. Some buildings were built in an era where the building materials used were found to be poisonous when exposed to fire. Smoke control is a major item to look into and will require meeting with an air handling contractor/engineer to better understand what types of damper, shut downs, and fans are needed to control smoke. A lot of research is required with older buildings when trying to discover what sort of environmental impact could be in play. With such cases, every part of the fire protection design needs to be considered to ensure the fire is contained to the smallest possible area within the facility, and promptly automatically extinguishes the fire.

As it goes with any system in your building, it is always best to avoid the “crisis” type of installs. Without a good plan or the right goals in mind, a last minute install could prove to be quite costly. If someone tells you or you feel it is time to upgrade your system, it is imperative to counsel with a fire protection professional you trust. Navigating through the required codes and meeting the five fire protection goals for your organization (life safety, property protection, mission continuity, heritage preservation and environmental protection) will come easier, and at a better price point with professional help.

If you have more questions about fire alarm or fire protection installations, or want to know more on how to maintain these systems, contact us. We would be happy to discuss your project with you to see how we can help.