A guide to Fire Alarm System types

Journalist, Cherry Park

Author Bio ▼

Cherry Park is an experienced freelance journalist and reporter who specializes in features, news, and news analysis, in print and online. She has written extensively in the areas of health and safety, fire safety, employment, HR, recruitment, rewards, pay and benefits, market research, environment, and metallurgy, and she also conducts research.
August 11, 2016

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Fire alarm systems are essential for the protection of life and property and are a legal requirement under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in most non-domestic premises where people work or visit, such as offices, shops, hotels, public venues, and in almost all new buildings under the 2010 Building Regulations.

By law, employers and/or building owners or occupiers must carry out, and keep updated, a fire safety risk assessment. Based on the findings of this assessment, they must ensure that adequate and appropriate fire safety measures, including fire detectors and alarms, are in place to minimise the risk of injury or loss of life in the event of a fire. Guidance on the design, installation and maintenance of fire alarm systems can be obtained from code of practice BS:5839.

The wide choice of fire alarm systems available is broadly divided into “conventional” fire alarm systems and analogue addressable “intelligent” systems, each type best suited to different kinds of premises. They may be also divided into categories depending on whether their aim is to protect life or property, or whether they are manual or automatic.

 

1. Conventional fire alarm systems

Conventional, or four-wire, fire alarm systems have been extensively used in smaller properties such as shops and restaurants for many years.

Less expensive to purchase than other types of alarm system, they work by dividing the building into a number of detection zones, with the detectors and call points within each zone hardwired on dedicated circuits to the control panel. There may be multiple detectors on a single zone. A separate two-core, fire-protected cable for each alarm sounder or bell is needed because they are wired to different loops.

If a detector is activated, the control panel identifies the circuit that contains the triggered device and so indicates the zone from which the fire alarm has originated, but the area then has to be manually searched to pinpoint the individual device.

2. Two-wire fire alarm systems

Also designed for smaller operations, two-wire fire alarm systems are based on standard conventional system technology, but in a two-wire system, the detectors, call points and alarm devices for each zone are wired on the same set of two-core zone cables back to the control panel, enabling it to use a single circuit per zone both for detection and to power the sounders or sirens.

Although two-wire systems cost more to purchase than four-wire systems, they are quicker, more flexible and less expensive to install. Two-wire systems also provide more flexibility in operation, and have additional functionality, such as fault conditions, isolation, and detector recognition.

3. Analogue-addressable fire alarm systems

Analogue-addressable fire alarm systems give details on individual detectors, whereas conventional systems only give information about specific circuits or zones.

Addressable or “intelligent” fire alarm systems are designed for large commercial premises and more complex networked systems, since they are much more expensive and more complicated than conventional two- or four-wire systems, having increased flexibility, intelligence, speed of identification, and scope of control.

In addressable systems, different types of initiating devices are wired in one or more single loops around the premises, requiring less cabling than conventional systems, with each detector or call point having its own unique address.

The fire control panel receives information and status reports from each device and indicates its exact location if there is a fire, fault, smoke, heat, or contamination.

4. Wireless fire alarm systems

More expensive to buy, but more flexible, cheaper, and much quicker to install, wireless, or battery-powered radio-linked, fire alarm systems provide just as much protection as conventional wired systems and are useful when wired installations are not suitable (such as in grade-listed properties where wiring may be prohibited).

There are no cables between the detection devices and the control panel, so doing away with the need for long-term cable tests.

Wireless systems need to comply with EN54-25 standard. Increasingly sophisticated, today’s wireless fire alarm systems are much more reliable than the ones that originated in the 1980s and have multi-frequency links to eliminate signal blocking and collision, allowing a high margin of signal strength to be maintained.

 

5. Aspirating smoke detection systems

Although technically a detection solution, aspirating smoke detection systems are extremely sensitive and can detect very small or smouldering fires far quicker than other systems.

Aspirating systems use a fan to draw in air from around a building via a network of sampling pipes and sampling holes. The air is then passed through a highly sensitive precision detector that analyses it and generates warning signals of potential fire when it detects smoke particles.

Expensive to install and maintain, these systems are highly sensitive and can detect cool smoke that does not rise to the ceiling, as well as smouldering fires and particles given off by overloaded electrical cables. They are therefore especially useful where early warning is required.

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35 Comments on "A guide to Fire Alarm System types"

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Sheh
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The article nicely elaborates the various types of fire alarms available for the users. But in my understanding, more lives are lost in sloppy reaction from fire fighting services. More time is lost in stampedes and poorly designed exit points, slow reactions from fire tenders and inadequate arrangments to put off the fire. 

StaceyE
Guest

@ Sheh
I believe you make some very valid points. However, all too often lately I have seen news reports in my area about people dying in house fires where fire alarms were not working properly or not installed at all.

Rob Ratcliff
Guest

I’ll look into commissioning an aritcle on desigining safe fire exits then. Might be quite complex, though.

SunitaT
Guest

 More time is lost in stampedes and poorly designed exit points
@sheh, I totally agree with your opinion. Infact in developing nations like Bangladesh many buildings dont keep exit door at all. I think law needs to be made stricter so that exit doors are placed at appropriate places. More importantly regular fire drills should be held regularly. 

StaceyE
Guest

@ SunitaT
I think you are correct. Any business that has employees should have more than one exit…even if some are only used in emergencies.

ITs_Hazel
Guest

Sunita makes a good point. Also, aside from stricter laws, I would also call for better implementation and reinforcement. The law could be there, but oftentimes, they’re not being enforced and people just get away with their violations.

StaceyE
Guest

@ ITs_Hazel
You hit the nail on the head….we need better enforcement of policies that are in place.

Rob Ratcliff
Guest

Better regulstions, better policed. Certainly in the Brazil nightclub fire in January the rules weren’t the problem, but the authorites bending them.

StaceyE
Guest

@ Rob
I think saying that the authorities bent the rules is giving too much credit…I think the authorities flat out ignored and broke the rules….

Rob Ratcliff
Guest

A fire drill is only as good as the exits provided. If there’s only one exit, it doesn’t matter how promptly you evacuate, there will be a crush getting out.

StaceyE
Guest
@ Rob You are so right…There has to be more than one exit or you are going to have injuries caused by people panicking trying to get out. Twenty years ago I went to a concert in a small club in Portland, Oregon, USA and someone in the crowd set off a canister of pepper spray. When it hit the crowd it turned to total chaos as people tried to get out of the building that was filled way over capacity, was dark, and had exits that were not clearly marked. People had all types of injuries from asthma attacks,… Read more »
SunitaT
Guest

Although technically a detection solution, aspirating smoke detection systems are extremely sensitive and can detect very small or smouldering fires far quicker than other systems.
@Cherry, thank the post, very informative. Since aspirating smoke detection are extremely sensitive what is the possibility of such systems sounding false fire alarms ? Can we tweak the sensitivity of such devices ?

Rob Ratcliff
Guest

You can, but as stated you would only use these in areas where early detection was really important: art galleries, museums, and perhaps factory floors with delicate/flammable materials.

StaceyE
Guest

@ Rob
I think these alarms would definitely be beneficial in warehouses with flammable material. I worked for a newspaper for years and that place would have gone up like a powder keg if there were even a small fire. The earlier the detection, the better.

Francisco Granadeiro
Guest

Interestng guide, but I don´t agree wth the infomration about the aspirating smoke detection system being inexpensive to install, as the detector and tubing required are rather expensive.
This system is suited not only for sensitive installations, like data centres, but also for very high ceiling spaces, like warehouses, and also for very harsh environments.
Regarding the sensitivity tweaking it is possible and has large thresholds
 
 

Rob Ratcliff
Guest

Eep, I think that’s a typo. I agree with you, they are expensive to install due to all the tubing!

gbrown
Guest

I know that there are many safety requirements for making and choosing the right alarm systems all over the world but some countries have inadequate regulations and laws to prevent and stop fire from taken place. I think international collabrations, education and training could help eliminate some of causes of fire just like having the correct and suitable fire alarm systems at the neccessary designated points in all buildings.

Rob Ratcliff
Guest

I completely agree, but I’d also go further and say that economics need to be brought into it. The only reason (honestly) that rules are so generally well-adhered to is because the financial consequences of getting it wrong are so high. Fines from the courts, and civil cases for damages can add up to tens of thousands or more. Without financial penalties on building owners failing to implement fire safety standards, we’ll see little change I fear.

rbenson1
Guest

Your explanation of the different types of fires alarm systems was so informative.  I am currently remodeling my small shop and the old fire alarm system needs to be replaced.  I really don’t know much about fire alarm systems.  Do you think a conventional fire alarm system would be good for a small store?  <a href=’http://www.firealarmboston.com’ >http://www.firealarmboston.com</a&gt;

James Lisbon
Guest

Cherry, I liked how you listed the different types all in one article.   In the past, I worked at a hotel and was responsible for general maintenance.   After looking at the smoke alarms a couple of times, it was interesting to notice just how sensitive they could be to smoke.   However, when there is a fire in a building, I would think that people would want the best equipment possible so as to avoid potential problems. http://www.rocklandhometheater.com/Security-Systems-Burglar-Alarms-Pomona-NY.html

PavlosLambardi
Guest

Thank you guys so much for the great advice. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to get a few fire alarms set up in my new house. I just want to make sure that I get the right kind of fire alarms. I’m definitely going to look into this article some more before I decide on an alarm. 

http://bevansecurity.com/services/fire-services/fire-alarm-installations/

tedsmith575
Guest
I would agree with you that fire alarm systems are a necessity. If you don’t have a fire alarm system you could not only lose everything you own, but you could also loose someone precious to you. I have a friend who decided not to put new batteries in his fire alarms. Then one day he had a grease fire that set the house on fire. His little girl got some burns, but she got out of the house fine. This could have been prevented if my friend had a properly working fire alarm system. Needless to say, he went… Read more »
shenoiekaant
Guest

A wireless home security system is definitely the best option to protect our home, our valuables and our family.
http://guardwellsafes.ie/

EmilyMerrell
Guest

I think that I would prefer the two wire fire alarm systems. It seems like they would be a little bit more expensive, but they would be easier to install. We live in a basement apartment right now, and we just realized that we don’t have a fire alarm in the basement. We’re going to have to get one put in ASAP. http://bevansecurity.com/services/fire-services/fire-inspections/

evanspetuniaflower
Guest

I learned a lot reading this! I think that a two-wire fire alarm would be better suited to my financial living, but the sound of a wireless fire alarm, with it being quicker and easier to install, sounds nearly worth the extra money. Especially if they are more reliable! Safety seems far more important and worth the cost, in my opinion! 
<a href=’http://www.exclusivealarms.ca’ > http://www.exclusivealarms.ca</a&gt;

jacksonfirecam
Guest

Good guide on fire alarm system differences. I wonder when wireless fire alarms will take-over wired systems in terms of install costs, in the same way they have for intruder alarm installs. 
http://www.jacksonfirecambridge.co.uk/fire/fire-alarms/

jessie4harrison
Guest

We had a close call with calling the fire department the other day. Luckily, we had a fire extinguisher on hand when the fire started. If nobody had been there the fire would’ve been much bigger. We’d like to have a fire alarm system installed in our office. I like the idea of the wireless system. How often do you have to change the batteries? http://www.telepluscorp.com/fire-alarm-life-safety.php

Bellaross
Guest

I was just searching for fire alarms guide from where I can get all the technical detail and types of Fire alarms. In Google search, I have found your site and I am pleased to see this comprehensive guide. 
http://www.intesec.co.uk/burglar-alarm.html

Onthemove696
Guest
Hi I was just curious if anyone would know why I might have found this Loosely in my fire alarm on my wall it is a detached hanging on a screw in my wall and had overheated the stuff the other day to go and shut it off and as I pull the battery out this little device seem to just come out of there very Loosely everything worked when I put the battery back in and tested it that it was still beeping. I obviously do not have any experience with or knowledge of these types of things so… Read more »
scott
Guest

I like that you point out that the conventional fire alarm system identifies the zone from which the fire alarm originated and then activates the sprinklers only in that area. I can see why this would help prevent any unnecessary damage from happening. It seems like there are a variety of options you could choose from when it came to choosing a fire system. Perhaps it would be best to consult with a professional and see what they recommend.

John
Guest

I had no idea there were so many different fire alarm types! I have read that certain fire alarm systems can actually decrease your homeowner’s insurance. The article mentions that fire alarms come in a variety of capabilities and functions. Is it safe to say the more functional a fire alarm system is, the better the discount you qualify for?

james
Guest

Such a fab guide to fire security alarms.
The smoke alarms may not put a stop to fire from the beginning, but they can perform a very important Role to reduce any damages. The most markable benefit of a smoke detector is to quick warning of the existence of fire in the office or home. Fire curtains can can also be useful to prevent any loss after detecting smoke or fire.

Harper Campbell
Guest

We are in the process of building our house, and we need to get hammer out the minor details like the fire alarms, we need to look for. I like the idea of getting wireless ones especially since you said that they are able to detect even the smallest of fires. This is something that we will have to keep in mind to make sure that our home is as safe as it can be.

Michael Anderson
Guest

I really loved reading your blog regarding fire alarm system. I also found your posts very interesting. In fact after reading, I had to go show it to my friend and he ejoyed it as well!

James Anderson
Guest

It sure is nice to know that there are different fire alarm systems available for installation. One system that caught my eye is the two-wire fire alarm system, as it is quicker and less expensive to install. My wife and I are thinking of putting a fire alarm system in our house. I’ll mention this to her so that we can talk about which system type will appeal to both of us and get in touch with an electrician that will get it installed. http://www.motorshopelectricalconstruction.com/fire-alarm-systems