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They say fire codes are written in blood for a reason. In 2021 alone, a firefighter in the US responded to a fire every 23 seconds, causing thousands of civilian casualties and $15.9 billion in property damage. So, what is a commercial fire alarm system and how exactly does it work?

Fire damage can be mitigated or prevented using a commercial fire alarm system.

Commercial fire alarm systems are more than a requirement in the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Codes and International Building Code (IBC). They are life-saving protection systems that can preserve lives, mitigate property damage, and potentially protect your business.

While setting up your commercial fire alarm system might sound complicated, these 3 questions can help break down the factors you should consider in going about this major life-saving step.

What commercial buildings require a fire alarm system?

If you are wondering whether your commercial facility even needs a fire alarm system, think of “occupancy.” Occupancy is the primary consideration of NFPA when it comes to mandating and determining the type of fire alarm system a facility needs. If your property is occupied by people, then you need to install one.

However, different facilities need different fire alarm systems. So when it comes to determining what commercial fire alarm system you would need, the first step is classifying your facility’s category.

Here are the three facility categories your property can fall under:

  • Group A is for places of assembly for 50 or more occupants, such as theaters, bars, and clubs
  • Group B is for office and service providers such as a carwash, clinics, print shops, or any establishment that stores and records accounts, such as banks and civic administration offices
  • Group M is for retail stores and merchandising facilities such as markets, retail or wholesale stores

What type of commercial fire alarm system would you need?

Now that you’ve nailed down your facility’s category, it is now time to determine what commercial fire alarm and fire alarm system you would need. Most of the time, a fire risk assessment will recommend what setup your facility needs.

But first, what is a commercial fire alarm system? And how is it different from a fire alarm? While these two terms sound interchangeable, each represents different levels of fire protection—think of how smoke detectors are different from a fire alarm system.

Fire alarms such as smoke detectors are the actual fire detection and alarm devices, while fire alarm systems are the wider network of these fire protection schemes and life safety solutions, circuits and tools that detect, control and monitor the status of a fire. Fire alarm systems are made up of components that operate the alarm, feed into the alarm, and are triggered by the alarm, such as emergency lights, fire sprinklers, and evacuation systems.

Types of fire alarms

Before we discuss fire alarm systems, it is crucial to first know the types of fire alarms that make up this larger network of life safety ecosystem.

Tools that make up what is a commercial fire alarm system.

Fire alarms detect smoke and fire using various sensors and technologies. Here are some of the different types of fire alarms commonly used in households and businesses nowadays:

  1. Ionization (detects small smoke particles)
  2. Optical (detects larger smoke particles)
  3. Heat (detects the rise in temperature)
  4. Multi-sensor (detects both heat and smoke)

Types of fire alarm systems

While fire alarm systems can be comprised of different fire alarms, how these tools are set up can define the type of fire alarm system. But regardless of the setup you prefer, hiring an experienced fire alarm technician can make all the difference in the effectiveness of your alarm system.

  1. Conventional fire alarm system: Typically used by single-story establishments with a more basic floor plan, conventional fire alarm systems let you monitor zones through analog signals separately wired to a central control panel.

    Although the separate wiring makes for a trickier installation, this setup makes the conventional fire alarm system more affordable with its minimal signal points and detectors.

    Once activated, the alarm system identifies a general area of the trigger zone which help firefighters narrow down the fire’s general location once inside the premises.

  2. Addressable fire alarm system: All devices are equipped with a unique “location identifier” and are wired to a single isolation module looped to a central control panel, which means this fire alarm system can pinpoint the accurate location of the trigger zone even when the alarm has been disconnected or damaged.

    Due to its precision and reliability, the addressable fire system hastens evacuation and aids firefighters immediately pinpoint the accurate location of the fire. This makes it more suited to cover larger buildings, spacious complexes, and multi-site campuses.

  3. Wireless fire alarm system: This system does not require your fire alarms to be hard-wired or directly and physically connected to the wire network. It communicates signals through radio waves, giving you fire protection throughout the premise, even in different buildings.

  4. Gas suppression fire alarm system: It uses a smoke detector to activate, then extinguishes the fire by suppressing the oxygen content to a point where the burning will stop. While some gas suppression fire alarm systems use water, some also use other extinguishing agents to cater to facilities where firefighting using water is not allowed, such as data centers.

  5. Aspirating fire alarm system: Ideal for premises with a high ceiling, this fire alarm system continuously samples your air for early fire detection. Instead of waiting for the smoke to drift towards the detector, the constant drawing in of air is ideal for monitoring complicated areas such as warehouses and storage facilities.

Now that you know these, what next?

Installing a commercial fire alarm system is just one step in defending yourself against potential fire damage. Just like your plumbing or electrical network, your fire alarm system also needs regular fire alarm inspection and maintenance to ensure its components are still functioning accordingly.

A fire alarm technician can ensure your fire alarms are functioning properly.

Remember, the potential property damage and loss of life a fire can cause far outweighs the cost of any fire alarm system. Not to mention the lack of fire alarm systems can invalidate insurance claims, too.

So when it comes to wise business decisions, investing in a commercial fire alarm system is one of the safest bets you can make.