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Commercial Fire Alarm System: A Complete Guide for Business Owners

A commercial fire alarm system is important for any business. Read on to learn what fire alarm system you should choose for your commercial property!

Commercial Fire Alarm System: A Complete Guide for Business Owners

Forbel is your trusted security system designer and Chicago commercial fire system installers, helping you to prevent damage to occupants, goods, and property. Our guide will teach you how commercial fire systems work and their main components, and how to choose the right commercial fire alarm system for your business.

What Is a Commercial Fire Alarm System?

A fire system is a network of components that work together to detect the presence of smoke, fire, or carbon monoxide fire and alert all people inside the building of the potential danger.

They are typically connected to a control panel or networked to other fire alarm systems and are designed to notify building occupants of a fire through audible and visual alarms. Fire alarms may also be connected to other fire protection equipment, such as sprinklers, and may be monitored by a central station or a remote monitoring service.

The number and type of devices included in the system are determined by the size of the building and local building codes. Fire alarm installations can only be carried out by approved companies.

What Are the Main Components of Commercial Fire Alarm Systems?

Fire alarm system components are interdependent and collaborate to ensure an efficient and effective operation. They generally consist of the following components:

Fire Alarm Control Panel

commercial fire alarm system

The control panel is the brain. Also called a FACU, it receives input from all the devices connected to it and processes the data to alert occupants in the event of a fire.

Its main functions consist of:

  • Collecting data from different devices connected to it.
  • Monitoring the state of each area in the building.
  • Activating alerting devices and notifications in case of an emergency.
  • Shutting down elevators.
  • Notifying the monitoring station and the proper authorities of an incident.

Smoke Detectors

A smoke detector alerts occupants to the dangers of a potential fire, allowing them to evacuate the building.

There are three types used in commercial fire alarm systems:

  • Ionization smoke detectors are susceptible to smaller particles of smoke.
  • Optical smoke detectors or photoelectric smoke detectors are fast-acting in their detection and sensitive to larger smoke particles in the air.
  • Dual-sensor smoke detectors are a combination of both the above sensors.

CO Detectors

A CO detector is a device that alerts occupants if the air in the building contains dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide (CO). This is especially important for those who work in buildings with gas, oil heating systems, boilers, water heaters, or near parking garages, as they are the most at risk of CO poisoning. Symptoms of CO poisoning can range from mild headaches to death(!), so having a CO detector is essential to protect employees from harm.

Pull Stations

Most people are familiar with the iconic pull station, the primary type of manually operated fire alarm. Every building requires pull stations — large properties need several. A pull station's location must be easily accessible without any obstructions so that when someone pulls the lever, it can signal the fire control panel and the fire department.


business fire alarm systems

A fire strobe alarm is essential for alerting people with hearing disabilities in an emergency. This type of alarm uses synchronized flashes of light to signal an evacuation. Horn strobes are a powerful combination of audible and visual alerts to ensure that all occupants can safely vacate the premises.

Additionally, fire alarm horns come in various sizes and colors and provide further benefits in the case of an emergency. They emit a synchronized sound with 1.5-second pauses to ensure that occupants know the danger.

Voice Evacuation Systems

A voice evacuation system is a PA system that broadcasts clear instructions to help guide people to safety during a fire or other hazardous situation. The benefits of having a voice evacuation system on hand include the following:

  • Providing clear instructions to limit panic.
  • Improved evacuation control, such as phase-out, local only, or floor-by-floor.
  • Highlighting the seriousness of the situation, as people may not take an alarm or malfunction seriously.

Water Sensors/Water Flow Switches

Water sensors are essential to a fire alarm system as they can detect water in areas that shouldn't be present and alert the system. Furthermore, specific water sensors can be programmed to shut off the water supply in case of a leak, thus preventing large-scale flooding. On the other hand, a water flow switch detects water movement in pipes, alerting the fire alarm system to activate sprinkler systems.

Heat Detectors

A heat detector senses heat and alerts occupants of a potential fire before it becomes life-threatening. There are two kinds of heat detectors: rate-of-rise thermal detectors, which measure the temperature change, and fixed temperature heat detectors, which issue alerts when the temperature rises above a certain level.

In contrast to other fire alarm system sensors, which rely on multiple factors, thermistors (temperature sensors) rely solely on heat to detect a potential fire. They can see a sudden change in the temperature of a room.

How Do Commercial Fire Alarm Systems Work?

how do commercial fire alarm systems work

Fire alarms are vital for commercial buildings. Here's a step-by-step of how commercial fire alarm systems work:

Step 1: Fire Alarm Is Triggered

When a fire alarm system is activated, it is impossible to ignore. A loud siren warns everyone in and around the premises of the potential danger. The alarm can be triggered by smoke or fire, but it can also be set off manually by someone in the building with the pull of a red lever.

Step 2: An Alarm Is Sent

Once the fire alarm is triggered, it will automatically alert the authorities by sending an SOS message through a telephone line or mobile network, depending on your setup. This is when fire drills are activated — establishing an established exit strategy is essential.

Step 3: Authorities Are Notified

When the monitoring center receives a distress message, they will quickly dispatch the necessary resources — police, ambulance, and fire department — to your location.

Step 4: The Customer Is Notified

Once the appropriate authorities have been dispatched, the monitoring center will notify you of the situation regardless of whether you are present:

  • If there is phone line monitoring: Fire alarm systems have traditionally worked with a POTS, a plain old telephone. This phone line must be strictly reserved for the fire alarm system and not be shared under any circumstances. This mandate comes directly from the NFPA 72, published by the National Fire Protection Association every three years, to aid in the safe and uniform installation of fire alarms in the United States. Phone line monitorings are secure and stable because a copper line sends messages and signals to the fire alarm monitoring company.
  • If there is cellular monitoring: Due to advances in technology and the widespread use of wireless networks, fire alarm systems can now transmit distress signals via a cellular tower. As a result, cellular monitoring is becoming the preferred choice for commercial establishments.

6 Things to Consider When Choosing Business Fire Alarm Systems

Fire alarm system components

All businesses, regardless of size, must have a reliable and comprehensive fire alarm system. Neglecting to do so can have disastrous consequences. Investing in a fire alarm system is essential for employees, customers, and property safety.

1. Types of Buildings that Need a Fire Alarm System

Commercial Office Buildings

A top-of-the-line fire alarm system is essential for commercial office buildings due to the high number of people occupying the space and the level of foot traffic they experience. This system is critical to the functioning of these types of facilities.

Apartment Buildings

Apartment buildings should not overlook the importance of having a commercial fire alarm system, as they are crucial to the residents' safety and the neighborhood's well-being. Without it, a catastrophic fire could cause significant damage to people's lives.

Industrial Facilities

An industrial facility must have a fire alarm system due to the potential dangers posed by machinery, hazardous materials, and combustible items stored in the building. The presence of flammable items creates an even greater need for a commercial fire alarm system to ensure the safety of the building and its occupants.

Logistics Hubs

The significance of having a fire alarm system in logistic hubs, which store many goods for distribution, cannot be emphasized enough. Should a fire occur, it could have far-reaching implications on the local supply chain.

2. Type of Fire Alarm System for Your Business

fire alarm system for commercial property

Choosing the right fire alarm system for your commercial property is essential to ensure that it is reliable and will safeguard your building from fire. Various types of commercial fire alarm systems are available, including:

Conventional Fire Alarm System

This is a more straightforward system; it will notify occupants of a fire without revealing the precise location of the fire. A traditional fire alarm system comprises separate detection points linked to a control unit. This wired system is cost-effective, yet installation is more complicated due to the wiring.

Addressable Fire Alarm System

This fire alarm system offers customization and flexibility thanks to its monitoring options. It is made up of many separate devices connected to a control panel. Not only does it alert you to the presence of a fire, but its self-monitoring and diagnostic capabilities can also alert you to any component malfunctions. Furthermore, this system's upgrades and maintenance are more cost-effective than a conventional fire alarm system in the long run.

Hybrid Fire Alarm System

A hybrid fire alarm system is a great choice for commercial properties because it blends the features of a traditional wired fire alarm system and an addressable fire alarm system. Hybrid fire alarm systems are often used for retrofitting facilities and properties that add an addition to their building.

3. Total Budget for Commercial Fire Alarm System

design commercial fire alarm system

The price of commercial fire alarms depends on the type of system, the size of the building, and how complex the system needs to be. When deciding how much money to set aside for a commercial fire alarm system, consider the cost of installation and monitoring, which also depend on the type of system.

4. Installation Deadline

The best time to install a commercial fire alarm system is when a business is being constructed or during the planning stage. At Forbel Alarms, we make it easy for our clients and provide the most practical terms, even if you're well-established and just redoing your system.

5. Local Codes and Regulations

When installing or upgrading a commercial fire alarm system, it is essential to adhere to the local codes and regulations such as Chicago fire detection requirements. Each area has different requirements for fire alarm systems, which go beyond the placement of fire extinguishers. To ensure that the system meets the requirements, please refer to the fire detection requirements for your city.

6. Architectural Drawings of the Building

A commercial fire alarm system is critical when constructing a new or remodeled structure. Suppose you are a contractor or business owner and possess your commercial facility's architectural drawings and schematics. In that case, your building will meet the necessary code requirements much sooner. These documents are beneficial during the design of the fire alarm system, allowing you to select the most appropriate method for your property.

Forbel Is Your Reliable Commercial Fire Alarm System Installer in Chicago to Commercial Fire Alarm Systems: The Bottom Line

Forbel Is Your Reliable Commercial Fire Alarm System Installer

As we have outlined in this article, designing the perfect commercial fire alarm system requires a lot of thought and planning. You'll need security system design consultants to help you design and integrate your whole security system. Forbel works in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Don't settle for less than the best when protecting your employees and property. There is no time to waste, contact us for your fire alarm installation.


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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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