Posted on 11/15/2013 2:09 PM by Chris Wilhelm

Fire AlarmFor building owners and facilities management professionals, fire alarm systems can be both a burden and a necessity.

Although fire alarm systems are mainly thought of by building owners as a system that is required to gain occupancy, a poorly designed fire alarm system can become such a burden to the owner that the main intent to protect people and property can get overlooked or lost.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Annual Fire Experience Survey, in 2011 fire departments responded to 2,383,000 false alarms – an increase of 9% from the year before. This means that one out of twelve calls responded to by fire departments were false alarms.

Choosing and properly designing a fire alarm system is crucial for both the safety of your occupants and your bottom line. Let the following factors guide your next new construction or facilities upgrade project.

Early Detection & Intelligent Technology

Even if the fire prevention codes don’t require a detection system, it may be in your best interest to install one of the many technologies that can detect a fire early and enable a quick response.

Modern fire alarm systems are considered “Intelligent” systems. A properly designed fire alarm system should cut down on false alarms, thereby ensuring when a fire alarm sounds, occupants leave the building.  The array of early detection devices on the market today can identify smoke and fire signatures so culprits such as dirt or steam do not create a false alarm. In addition, an intelligent system’s maintenance alerts saves maintenance costs by pinpointing which smoke detectors may have become dirty and are in need of cleaning; thereby, reducing the need to remove and clean all smoke detectors in an attempt to find a few contaminated and dirty ones.

This early detection technology can also provide the earliest possible detection of a fire and its source, which is especially helpful in terms of notifying fire departments earlier of the fire, which in effect can help save the building from total fire destruction and loss.

Building Occupants & False Alarms

Once an actual event triggers an alarm on the fire alarm control panel, it will send notification to the fire department and occupants in the building.  The audible notification of a fire alarm system should be designed to ensure all occupants in all areas of the building – whether hard of hearing or seeing – receive the proper notification (both audible and visual) to leave the building.

Fire alarm systems become a burden and a safety issue when false alarms continue to occur. These continued false alarms result in occupants becoming numb to the alarm and therefore disregarding it, which both puts them in harm’s way and causes chaos for firefighters who arrive on the scene to fight the fire.  The longer the occupants stay in place believing it is another false alarm, the higher the risk is that they will be injured in the fire. A fire doubles in size every thirty seconds to one minute. Therefore those extra seconds of reaction-time are imperative to the safety of the occupants in the building.

Fees and False Alarms

False alarms can not only be hazardous to occupants in the occurrence of an actual fire, they are also very costly to the building owners.  Fire departments are holding building owners accountable for the proper functionality of the fire alarm system by charging false alarm fees.  These fees, although taxing for the owner, help ensure that fire alarm systems are no longer only installed to gain occupancy and instead the actual design of the system is looked at more for the safety and long-term operation to minimize false alarms.  In today’s tighter budgets, building owners are more likely to take special precautions when the fire alarm system is being designed so they are not hit with these alarm expenses later on.

To summarize, a fire alarm system is more than a necessity and never a burden if the right detection devices are selected and installed.  Along with the proper notification, a fire alarm system can be your best tool for prevention, detection, safe evacuation, and mitigating the loss of life and property while cutting down on false alarms.

Chris Wilhelm is director of construction at Tech Electronics.