Beginners Guide to Fire Alarm Systems

Many facilities are equipped with a fire alarm system. Few people in these facilities actually know how the fire alarm functions, what its signals mean, or how to care for these systems.  This brief post will serve as introduction to the components, signal types, maintenance, and applicable codes for fire alarm systems.

System Components

Fire Alarm Control Panel (FACP) - ‘brain’ of the alarm system; the panel controls all alarm functions, and sends and receives all signals

Initiating devices - these devices activate the fire alarm system and send signals to the fire alarm panel.  These devices include:
  • Heat/Smoke/Fire detectors
  • Pull stations
  • water flow devices

Notification appliances - these devices alert occupants to the presence of a fire. These devices include:
  • Strobes
  • Horn/strobes
  • Speakers

System Signals

Trouble - local signal that indicates a problem with the integrity of the system. This can indicate a wiring problem, communication error, or faulty device. A fire alarm technician must be called to investigate and correct this problem.

Supervisory - indicates the change of a device from its normal status.  A valve that is normally required to be in the open position is monitored; if this valve is closed a ‘supervisory’ signal will be sent to the panel.  This should be investigated by facility staff/personnel.

Alarm - indicates that a fire has been detected. Alarm system will be fully activated, horns, strobes, and speakers will sound. This is an emergency situation. Fire department should be contacted to respond.

System ITM

These systems are required to be fully tested at least annually. This test must be conducted by trained, qualified, and certified personnel.

Daily, monthly, semi-annual, and annual inspection, testing, and maintenance requirements are outlined in NFPA 72:14.3.

System Codes and Standards

NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code - covers all installation, testing, and maintenance requirements for fire alarm systems.