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Fire Alarm Systems - What to Consider When Thinking About Replacement

The fire alarm system is one of the most important components of a building's security and protection system. This system protects your building, inventory, employees and interior furnishings from fire and smoke damage.

Components of Fire Alarm Systems

The fire alarm system must be able to detect smoke and fire. It must sound an alarm and/or have flashing lights that notify building occupants of a fire. A good system should be set up to automatically notify the local fire department so they can respond immediately. The fire system should also trigger safety functions, such as sprinkler systems and automatically opening or closing doors.

Considerations for Replacement of Fire Alarm Systems

What should a business consider when decided to replace their fire alarm system? The alarm system replacement will have to fit into the business's budget. It will have to meet all national, state and local codes and it will have to adequately protect the needs of the individual business. Before purchasing a fire alarm system, the business should define their individual fire protection needs. Some areas to consider include personal safety, protection of property, continuity of the mission of the business, and possibly protection of the environment and historic preservation.

Personal Safety

Generally, the most important function of a fire alarm system is to protect the personal safety of the occupants of the building. The fire alarm system should give adequate warning to occupants so they have time to get out of the building in case of a fire. The system should provide detection for all areas of the building. A total protection system should cover stairwells, basements, attics, hallways, lofts, closets and elevator shafts. A good fire alarm system will provide early detection and warning to occupants of the building through smoke and or fire detectors.

Protection of Property

A fire alarm system can help to limit property damage to the building and contents. The business may decide to meet this need by early fire detection or a sprinkler system that turns on automatically in case of fire.

Protection of the Environment

If a fire at a business will cause environmental concerns, additional components may need to be added to the fire alarm system. If the business stores or uses toxic or harmful chemicals, those chemicals could end up in the local water supply if water is used to fight a fire at the business. An older building may contain asbestos or other harmful building materials that could release toxic fumes in case of a fire. In these cases, the fire alarm system should be set up so that any fire is detected immediately and the environmental damage can be minimized.

Historic Protection

If your business is housed in a historic structure, the fire alarm system will need to be specially designed. The system will need to blend in with historic elements of the structure and not destroy any significant historical features.

Local Code Requirements

Once fire protection needs have been determined for the business, local code requirements should be looked at. Have any local building or fire codes changed since the fire alarm system was last upgraded? Are there any restrictions or requirements that need to be considered before installing a fire alarm system?

How will the System Work?

Next determine the functionality of the fire alarm system. How does the business want the fire alarm system to perform? Most fire alarm systems sound an alarm in case of fire, however if there are deaf or hard of hearing occupants in the building, the fire alarm system should also have flashing lights to alert those occupants of a fire. Determine who will watch over the fire alarm system. Is there a security force already in place or is an outside security monitoring firm going to be watching and maintaining the system? If an outside security monitoring firm is going to be used, are you required to sign a contract with them? If so, how long is the contract?

All of these questions should be answered before you consider replacing your existing fire alarm system. Check with the local fire department or hire a professional fire protection engineer to help make sure that your new replacement system meets all existing national, state and local building and fire codes. Fire alarm systems can range from very basic systems to highly elaborate systems. Keep business goals and current codes in mind to design and install the perfect fire alarm system.