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Fire Alarm Systems At Work - Beginner's Guide

Although every commercial business premises should be equipped with a fire alarm system, most of the workforce is not actually familiar with how the system functions, what the signals mean and how the system should be maintained.

Here's a helpful basic overview of the components of commercial fire alarm systems and the signal types that are employed.

Fire alarm system components

Your company's fire alarm system will have a main control panel, which you will often find situated near to the security desk or in the facilities department of larger buildings.  The control panel is effectively the fire alarm system's brain, controlling all the alarm functions, as well as sending and receiving all signals to and from the system.

Connected to the control panel are a number of initiating devices.  The initiating devices are responsible for activating the fire alarm system and for sending appropriate signals to the fire alarm system control panel.  Initiating devices vary according to the size of your business premises and the nature of the business but generally include heat or smoke detectors, pull stations and water flow devices such as sprinklers.  

The final components of the fire alarm system are the notification appliances.  Notification appliances are devices that are responsible for alerting everyone in the building that there is a fire.  The types of notification devices present in the fire alarm system do vary, but they generally include strobes, speakers, bells or horns.

Fire alarm system signals

The fire alarm system has a number of different signals that are shown on the control panel.

  1. A local 'trouble' signal indicates that there is a problem with the system's integrity.  Such problems can include a faulty device, a communication error or a wiring issue.  If the fire alarm system control panel indicates a 'trouble' signal, you should call out a qualified fire alarm technician to investigate.  
  2. A 'supervisory' signal on the fire alarm system control panel usually indicates that a device has deviated from its normal status. For example, this could be caused by a valve that is usually in the open position but has been closed.  Supervisory signals should be investigated and the problem rectified by facilities department personnel.  
  3. The most important signal to note is the 'alarm' signal.  An alarm indicates that a fire has been detected by one of the notification devices.  This should be treated as an emergency situation and the fire brigade should be called.  All staff should be evacuated from the building as per the company fire alarm procedure.