Article and photos by Gregory Havel
When most of us hear that a building has a fire alarm system, we usually assume that it has a control panel like the one shown in photo 1 and that it is at or near the main entrance. From this location, the alarm system can be tested, silenced, reset, or programmed as needed. If the system uses digital addressable initiating devices, the panel will not only tell us which part of the building has the fire alarm, it will also tell us which pull station, smoke detector, heat detector, flame detector, flow switch, or tamper switch activated the alarm and where in the building it is located.
- release holders for fire and smoke doors
- alert security stations or emergency service dispatch centers
- recall elevators for firefighter service
- serve as the emergency communications system
- monitor carbon monoxide and alarms
- control the fire sprinkler system and monitor the fire pump and alarms
- control the building security system monitoring and alarms
The fire alarm control panel contains indicator lights and buttons that control the operation of the alarm system:
- “Trouble” indicators may be present for power, system, signal circuits, and other functions; and each indicator will have a button to “acknowledge” or “silence” the trouble alarm.
- “Power” indicates that the main power supply is functioning. If there is a “power trouble” signal, the fire alarm system is operating on stand-by power, usually batteries.
- “Fire Alarm” indicates that the alarm horns, bells, or strobes have been activated. Pressing the “acknowledge” button will allow the system to be silenced or reset.
- “Alarm Silence” will turn off the alarm horns, bells, or strobes; leave the system in an alarm condition so that the initiating device that sets off the alarm can be located; and allows additional initiating devices to go into alarm and reactivate the alarm horns, bells, or strobes.
- “Reset” or “System Reset” will turn off the alarm horns, bells, or strobes and return the panel and any alarm-initiating devices to their normal non-alarm condition.
In larger and more modern buildings, the fire alarm control unit may be a distance from the main entrance, often in a secure room with the communications and data network equipment, as shown in photo 2. This will be a complete control panel from which the alarm system can be tested, silenced, reset, or programmed as needed. When the fire alarm control panel is in a remote locked room, NFPA 72 (2010 edition) requires that a remote control station is near the main entrance, as shown in photo 3 (top of next page). This remote control panel will allow the alarm system to be tested, silenced, or reset without physically visiting the location of the main control panel. Programming and troubleshooting a system like this will still need to be done at the main fire alarm control panel.
If your fire department is called to a facility with one of these computer-controlled systems, expect to be met by security or a technician who will gain access to the system for you and help you get the information you need. The procedure or contact phone number to gain access to fire alarm information in a computer-controlled system should be included in your prefire plan for the facility.
Gregory Havel is a member of the Burlington (WI) Fire Department; a retired deputy chief and training officer; and a 30-year veteran of the fire service. He is a Wisconsin-certified fire instructor II and fire officer II, an adjunct instructor in fire service programs at Gateway Technical College, and safety director for Scherrer Construction Co., Inc. Havel has a bachelor’s degree from St. Norbert College; has more than 30 years of experience in facilities management and building construction; and has presented classes at FDIC.
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Subjects: Building construction for firefighters