NFPA 101 Life and Safety Code dictates the different requirements for the three key components of a fire alarm system: initiation (what sets it off), occupant notification (how it alerts people), and how it must be monitored for the purpose of response by emergency personnel.
The type of fire alarm notification required for your building is based on occupancy and hazard type. A fire alarm system is intended to protect your building and notify all building occupants if a fire occurs. The problem is that many employees and visitors to your building may be unaware of what is expected of them if the fire alarm system goes off.
Initiating devices trigger the fire alarm system to activate. This can happen manually or automatically via smoke detectors or sprinkler system activation. You’ve probably seen the fire alarm box pull-stations in commercial buildings. This is a manual initiating device. They are required for most buildings depending on occupancy type.
When a fire alarm is triggered, notification will follow shortly after.
Types of notification
Once triggered, your fire alarm system will then notify occupants of your building that a fire has occurred. There are a number of ways that this can happen:
- Visual signals
- Strobe lights
- Emergency exit lighting
- Audible signals
- Voice evacuation
- Option for customizable message
NFPA sets regulations on how loud these signals must be to be sure that these notifications are heard and seen. For example, all audible signals must be able to be heard above ambient sounds. Voice evacuations can be customized but the goal is to direct occupants of the building to the nearest and safest emergency exits. Building owners also have the option to have fire alarm systems notify occupants on a “need to know basis.” This means that only those in the affected area will be notified versus the entire system notifying an entire building.
It’s important that when a fire alarm sounds all occupants of the building know what to do. It can be confusing when there are horns and strobes going off. Voice evacuation is an effective way to help occupants stay calm and get to safety. If your building does not have voice evacuation, educate all employees on what to expect should the fire alarm sound. Not all fire alarm systems are the same and not all notifiers are the same.
Another tip is to run fire alarm drills with your employees. A fire protection company or your local AHJ can offer tips on how to effectively run fire safety drills.
Be aware of false alarms
Frequent false alarms can be problematic in many ways, especially when notifying occupants of a building of a true emergency. Fire alarm systems can be manually set off when there’s no fire emergency, either intentionally or unintentionally.
Building owners can prevent fire alarm system false alarms by:
- Keeping smoke detectors free of dust and debris
- Moving appliances away from smoke detectors
- Educating building occupants on location of smoke detectors and sprinkler heads
- Installing protective covers for pull stations
Not all fire alarm systems are equipped with a monitoring system (or are required), but most commercial builds are. Monitoring systems alert emergency personnel to an emergency in your building. There are a few ways a building is monitored but the main purpose of monitoring is to confirm a fire emergency and contact the appropriate personnel as soon as possible.
NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, is the fire code outlining the frequency of regular inspection and maintenance of fire alarm systems.
Visual inspections, testing, and maintenance of fire alarm systems vary by system type, manufacturer’s guidelines, and AHJ requirements. Some systems require semi-annual inspections while others require annual inspections. A fire protection professional should conduct testing and maintenance of your fire alarm system. Visual inspections can be conducted on a more regular basis by the building owner.
Fire Systems, Inc. offers installation, inspection, testing, maintenance, and repair of almost all fire alarm system types. We also offer fire alarm system monitoring. Our goal is to be the only fire protection company you will ever need. This means that we do it all. From fire sprinkler systems to suppression, we are your one company for all your fire protection services. Call us today at 770-333-7979 or visit our website for more information.