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2/4/2022

How to Test a Fire Alarm in Your Commercial Building

Learn about commercial fire alarm testing. Discover how to test fire alarm systems in commercial buildings to stay compliant and protect your property.

How to Test a Fire Alarm in Your Commercial Building

This guide from Forbel reveals the essential steps for testing your commercial fire alarm system to ensure maximum protection.

In 2022, the 140,000 non-residential structure fires caused an estimated 150 civilian fire deaths, 1,400 civilian injuries, and $4.0 billion in direct property damage. In Chicago, the statistics are grim in both residential and commercial fires.

Don't let your business premises become another fire statistic. A well-maintained and regularly tested commercial fire alarm system is a crucial line of defense and a cornerstone of effective fire prevention for commercial buildings.

Beyond its life-saving capabilities, a robust fire alarm network safeguards your business from costly damage and ensures compliance with strict fire safety regulations – including the U.S. General Services Administration's specific requirements for fire alarm systems.

However, navigating the complexities of testing your fire protection equipment can be challenging. This comprehensive guide provides a clear roadmap for commercial fire alarm testing, frequency, and maintenance.

Why Should You Frequently Test Commercial Fire Alarms?

Beyond the tragic human cost, a silent alarm can be a disaster for your business. From expensive property damage to potential legal ramifications and insurance complications, the financial repercussions can be crippling.

Commercial buildings, often characterized by multiple occupants, intricate layouts, and the presence of flammable materials, inherently face an elevated risk of fire incidents.

Top 5 Causes of Commercial Building Fires

As advanced as technology has become, it isn’t always reliable. This means that these routine tests are imperative to ensure the flawless functionality of all fire safety equipment.

In the case of smoke alarms, many rely on battery power, underscoring the critical need to regularly inspect and replace batteries as required. Whether your commercial property is an office space or a bustling logistics hub, these tests stand as a matter of life and death, especially because smoke detectors last for a limited time.

How Often Should You Test Your Fire Detection System?

To ensure compliance, reference standard 1910.164 regarding fire detection system standards. Commercial properties should prioritize weekly testing of fire alarms and smoke detectors.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, the minimum requirement is once a month. Batteries should be replaced every 6 months and test logs must be kept to ensure fire alarm testing is performed regularly.

Here's a detailed schedule for optimal fire alarm upkeep:

Inspection What Should Be Done
Weekly Visual Inspections Control Panel: Check functionality, including alarm signals, fuses, connected systems, and lights.
Power Supply: Ensure your main power source for the fire alarm is stable and sufficient.
Trouble Signals: Address any logged issues or alarms from the control panel quickly.
‍Monthly Functionality Tests Batteries: Test voltage levels and replace any weak batteries.
Signal Transmission (DACR): Verify that the system can send alarm notifications to the appropriate authorities.
CO2 Detectors (If Applicable): Perform functional checks based on manufacturer guidelines or local codes.
Quarterly Inspections Heat Detectors: Test for proper sensitivity to smoke or simulated heat.
Alarms: Check that both audible and visual alarms are working throughout the building.
Waterflow Devices: Inspect for any blockages or leaks in connected devices.

If one smoke detector emits strange beeps, or in the event of false alarms, all fire safety equipment must be tested at that time. This is to make sure that all safety regulations are followed, and that the equipment is up to date.

Commercial properties should appoint a designated, trained employee to ensure accurate and timely maintenance of fire alarm and smoke detector logs.

How to Test Commercial Fire Alarms and Smoke Detectors: A Step-by-Step Guide

There are key steps to take when testing a commercial fire alarm/smoke detector. Regardless of whether this is the weekly, monthly, bi-yearly, or yearly test, it’s important to log all the information into a fire alarm test log.

STEP 1. NOTIFY YOUR EMPLOYEES

It’s recommended to perform an annual fire drill, especially for bigger companies, at which the employees should not be notified. However, a fire alarm notification is necessary for the weekly, monthly, and bi-yearly tests to avoid creating panic or a chaotic state among the employees. When the tests are being performed, it’s important to notify your security system company to avoid triggering false alarms.

How Long Do Fire Alarm Inspection and Test Take?

To set employee expectations, it's important to discuss the typical duration of fire alarm inspections and tests. Providing an estimated time frame helps employees prepare and helps them plan accordingly.

STEP 2. MAKE SURE EMPLOYEES ARE SPREAD OUT ACROSS THE BUILDING

During these fire alarm tests, employees need to be spread throughout the entire building, from end to end. This is to make sure that in the event of a fire, you will hear the alarm, no matter where you are on the premises.

STEP 3. PERFORM THE FIRE ALARM TEST

Testing your fire alarms requires precision and attention to detail.

Follow these steps to conduct a successful test:

  • Start by verifying that all necessary preparations are in place for the test.
  • Walk through the building and methodically activate the fire alarm system at each designated manual call point location. Once a pull station is activated, the alarm should sound loudly and clearly throughout the entire building. Verify that both the audible alarms and any visual strobe lights (if present) are functioning as intended in all areas of the building. After confirming the alarm's functionality, return to the fire alarm control panel – the central hub of the system. This panel is typically located in a secure area, often near a main building entrance. Follow the designated reset procedure (which may involve a specific button or a series of steps) to silence the alarm and re-arm the system for future alerts.
  • Next, focus on testing the smoke detectors – a vital part of your fire alarm system. Most modern smoke detectors feature a built-in test button. Press and hold this button for approximately 5 seconds to initiate a test cycle.
  • If the smoke detector is functioning properly and the batteries are still fresh, a loud and piercing sound should emanate. This indicates that the detector is in good working condition.
  • If the sound is weak or no siren is heard, it’s important to replace the batteries immediately. Malfunctioning smoke detectors can compromise the safety of your building and its occupants.
  • Record the date, time, and any observed issues in a dedicated fire alarm test log for future reference.

As mentioned above, it’s important that a trained individual is responsible for performing the fire alarm tests within a company and that they keep detailed test logs.

Fire Alarm Inspection Checklist

Fire Alarm Acceptance Checklist

Make sure your building is protected with this downloadable fire alarm inspection checklist.

Minimize downtime and maximize occupant safety with our meticulous fire alarm inspection checklist guide. Designed for busy building managers, this tool simplifies routine fire alarm systems inspection to make sure your system is ready in the face of an emergency.

Smoke Detector Maintenance Tips

It isn't just enough to routinely test your commercial fire alarm, it's crucial to maintain it so that it works more efficiently. That helps you avoid false alarms and it can save lives.

ROUTINE CLEANING

Regular cleaning of smoke detectors is essential. Commercial smoke detectors should be cleaned at least once a month. When cleaning, focus on clearing air vents to ensure unobstructed detection of smoke and carbon monoxide. Avoid submerging detectors in water or using chemical cleaners; a simple microfiber cloth for external cleaning is sufficient.

BATTERY REPLACEMENT

To maintain functionality, replace smoke detector batteries every six months. Make sure that fresh batteries are inserted, as expired ones may compromise safety. Always test the smoke detector after installing new batteries to verify proper operation.

Battery Replacement

SMOKE DETECTOR REPLACEMENT

Smoke detectors have a lifespan of approximately 10 years, but they may require replacement sooner as per the manufacturer's instructions. In commercial settings, liability considerations make timely replacement crucial. After a decade, dust, debris, and general wear and tear can impair a detector's performance. Replacing aging detectors reduces the risk of false alarms and ensures reliable fire detection.

VISUAL INSPECTIONS

Regularly inspect smoke detectors for physical damage, obstructions, or signs of tampering. Make sure that nothing blocks their view, and maintain clear access to vents and sensors.

The Bottom Line

In the face of devastating potential losses from fire, a meticulously tested and maintained fire alarm system stands as your commercial building's first line of defense. Regularly adhering to recommended testing schedules and procedures isn't simply a regulatory requirement; it's a life-saving investment.

Committing to responsible fire alarm maintenance and testing doesn't end with the initial installation. Vigilant upkeep ensures ongoing protection for your employees, tenants, and your valuable property.

Don't wait for a tragedy to strike. Prioritize fire safety today and create a secure environment where everyone can work and thrive with peace of mind. Explore Forbel's security solutions – reliable fire alarm systems that could save lives. Contact us today.

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Dzmitry Beliayeu
CEO
Dzmitry Beliayeu

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

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Faq

How often should fire alarms be inspected by professionals?

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends annual inspections by qualified professionals for all commercial fire alarm systems. However, the specific frequency may vary depending on:

  • Local regulations: Check your local fire code for any additional requirements. Some areas may require semi-annual or even quarterly inspections for certain types of buildings.
  • Hazard level: Buildings with higher risk factors, such as those with flammable materials or a large number of occupants, may need more frequent inspections.
  • System complexity: More complex systems with sophisticated features may benefit from even closer monitoring by professionals.

Why do I need professional inspections?

Trained professionals have the expertise and equipment to conduct a comprehensive examination of your entire fire alarm system, including hidden components and hard-to-reach areas. They can identify potential issues you might miss, such as:

  • Faulty wiring or connections
  • Sensor malfunctions
  • Battery backups in need of replacement
  • Accumulated dust or debris hindering detection

You'll receive a detailed report documenting the inspection findings, any identified problems, and recommended solutions. This helps you prioritize repairs and maintain a clear record of system performance.

What is the NFPA code for fire alarm testing?

To ensure safety and optimal performance, fire alarm systems must adhere to NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm Code. This code outlines essential guidelines for inspections, testing, and maintenance.

How often should smoke alarms be tested according to OSHA?

OSHA mandates fire alarm testing every two months to guarantee functionality in an emergency. This rigorous testing schedule ensures your system is always ready to protect lives.

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