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Commercial Fire Alarm System - A Complete Guide for Business Owners

Commercial Fire Alarm System - A Complete Guide for Business Owners

Commercial fire alarm systems will protect your property from crippling damages that could destroy your business or investment. Fire is a serious threat to any commercial building, and it is important to properly design and create a fire alarm system that will wholly protect and alert you in the event of a fire.

There are numerous types of fire alarm systems and finding the right combination that will suit your commercial property may seem daunting. We will outline a guide to help you weed out the dos and don’ts. This comprehensive fire alarm systems 101 guide will highlight the basic requirements when it comes to commercial fire alarm systems.

What Is a Fire Alarm System?

The clear definition of a fire alarm system is a series of devices linked together that will detect a fire and be able to alert all the occupants of the real and present danger. The meaning behind this is that one alarm is often not sufficient; building codes and requirements are put into place to ensure the property and the safety of everyone inside a commercial building. The size of your fire alarm system will be linked to the size of the commercial property. The strategic placement of fire alarms and the additional devices connected to these alarms are the components of the fire alarm system. The main roles of this system are:

  • Monitor the premises
  • Detect the danger
  • Alert the occupants

What Devices Does a Fire Alarm System 101 Consist Of?

Fire alarm systems are a collection of components that monitor your property in case of a fire.

Fire Alarm Control Panel

Fire Alarm Control Panel

What is a fire alarm control panel? Simply put it is the brain of the system. A fire alarm control panel, also known as FACU will receive the input from all the devices connected to it and will process the data to alert in case of a fire incident. There are different types of fire alarm control panels, but they all operate in the same way. A fire control panel knows the state of each device that is connected to it and monitors each area of the building separately as well. The functions are:

  • It collects data from different devices connected to it.
  • It monitors the state of each area in the building.
  • It turns on alerting devices and notifications in case of an emergency.
  • It shuts down elevators.
  • It notifies the monitoring station and the proper authorities of an incident.

Smoke Detectors

Smoke Detectors

We have all heard of the expression: ‘where there's smoke, there’s fire’. Smoke detectors play a critical role in a fire alarm system because they alert of the dangers of a potential fire. This allows the occupants to evacuate the building. There are 3 types of smoke detectors used in commercial fire alarm systems:

  • Ionization smoke detectors, which are highly sensitive to the smaller particles of smoke, are the most used.
  • Optical smoke detectors or photoelectric smoke detectors are fast-acting in their detection, and they are sensitive to larger particles of smoke in the air.
  • Dual-sensor smoke detectors which is a combination of the 2 detectors.

CO Detectors

CO Detectors

Carbon monoxide poisoning is dangerous to employees who work in buildings with gas, oil heating systems, boilers, water heaters, or if they are close to parking garages. CO poisoning happens when excessive amounts of carbon monoxide are in the air; this can cause anything from headaches to death. What is a CO detector? It is a detector that will alert the occupants if they are being exposed to dangerous levels of CO.

Pull Stations

Pull Stations Fire Alarm

When most people think of fire alarms, the first image that swims into mind is the iconic pull station. A pull station is a manually operated fire alarm where anyone can pull the lever to alert people of fire. Every building is required to have a pull station, but it is encouraged to have several throughout, especially if your commercial property is large. The location of the pull stations must be easily accessible and never obstructed. When the lever is pulled it will send a signal to the fire control panel which will then transmit a message to the fire department.


Strobes and Horns Fire Alarm System

A fire strobe alarm is put into place to alert people with hearing disabilities that there is a fire. This alert comes in synchronized flashes of light to signal the need for immediate evacuation. Horn strobes combine audible and visual alerts which make them a powerful tool to ensure that all occupants can evacuate in the event of an emergency. A fire alarm horn and a strobe alarm are indispensable when it comes to an efficient fire alarm system.

When it comes to a fire strobe, it is important to consider two important factors. Firstly, these types of alarms must be mounted on walls or ceilings, they function much like sirens and can be far-reaching. Secondly, it is important to consider the candela rating when it comes to a strobe device, the higher its rating, the bigger the area that it will cover. It is noteworthy that strobe horns come in many sizes and colors.

A fire alarm horn has added features in case of an emergency. The horn part of its system will emit a synchronized sound with planned 1.5-second silences to ensure that people are aware that there is a danger.

Voice Evacuation Systems

Voice Evacuation Systems Fire Alarm

What is a voice evacuation system? It is a PA system that will alert people of a threat and give clear procedural instructions to limit and prevent a dangerous situation from getting worse. These public address systems are commonly used for fires. A voice evacuation system’s main purpose is to guide the population to safety in the event of a fire. Thankfully, fires don’t happen every day, meaning these PA systems can also be used on a day-to-day basis. For example, in shopping malls, they will be used for marketing purposes. Building managers can derive great value from a voice evacuation system because it gives you a clear line of communication with your staff when things can get chaotic during an emergency.

Some of the benefits of having a voice evacuation system in a time of crisis:

  • Clear instructions can diminish a state of panic in an emergency.
  • Control of the evacuation: phase-out evacuation, local only, floor by floor.
  • Highlight the seriousness, sometimes people freeze when they hear an alarm or brush it off as a glitch or malfunction which can cost lives.

This is an important addition to your commercial fire alarm system, especially if your building is large.

Water Sensors/Water Flow Switches

Water Flow Detector Fire Alarm

Water sensors are a useful addition to a fire alarm system because they can detect water in places where there shouldn’t be any and alert the system. In addition, certain water sensors can be programmed to shut off the water in case of a leak to prevent a damaging flood in the facility.

The role of a water flow switch is to detect the movement of the water in the pipes. This alerts the fire alarm system that there is water flowing in the sprinkler system which means that there must be a fire.

Heat Detectors

Heat Detectors Fire Alarm

Heat detectors are devices that can sense the heat, this is to alert the occupants that there is a fire before a fire becomes life-threatening. There are 2 types of heat detectors: Rate-of-rise thermal detector which measures the temperature change and how much the temperature rises at any given time. Fixed temperature heat detector which measures the rise of the temperature and sends an alert if the temperatures rise above a certain level.

Temperature sensors, also known as thermistors, work much the same way as heat detectors but they do have an added feature that they can detect a sudden change in the temperature of a room. Temperature sensors function differently from the other sensors or detectors in a fire alarm system which rely on many different factors before alerting the fire alarm system; thermistors rely solely on the heat to alert the fire alarm system of a potential fire.


There are many crippling losses after a fire starting with loss of lives and injuries, the loss of products or supplies, financial losses, and lost productivity. You work hard to establish your business and you want to protect it. Forbel has extensive experience in the design and installation of commercial fire alarm systems in Chicago. Every business is unique, you need an expert that can guide you and install a customized fire alarm system that will be best suited to keep your business safe. Contact us today!


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Dzmitry Beliayeu
Dzmitry Beliayeu

Dzmitry Beliayeu is a commercial building security expert, technology consultant, and licensed alarm contractor

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