What is the difference between a fire alarm and a fire alarm system?
A fire alarm is a device that makes a loud noise to provide warning of a fire. A fire alarm system is number of devices which work together to detect and alert people in the event of a fire. They will often use both visual and audible warnings when smoke/fire is present. These alarms may be activated from smoke detectors, and heat detectors.
What does a fire alarm system consist of?
A fire alarm system will contain the following main components:
- Fire Alarm Control Panel (FACP): This is the brain of the system. It monitors the inputs from initiating devices and controls the output to notify occupants of the presence of fire.
- Initiating Devices: These act as an input to the fire alarm control unit, and can be either manually or automatically activated. Examples would be pull stations, heat detectors or smoke detectors.
- Notification appliances: These use energy supplied from the fire alarm system, or other stored energy source, to inform building occupants of the need to take action, usually to evacuate. This is done by means of a flashing light, strobe light, electromechanical horn, beeper horn, chime, bell, speaker, or a combination of these devices. In a larger or more complex building, the fire alarm system will also have these functions:
- Building safety interfaces: These allow the fire alarm system to control aspects of the built environment and to prepare the building for fire; such as by controlling the spread of smoke fumes and fire by influencing air movement, lighting, process control, human transport and exit.
- EVACS: Some fire alarm systems utilize emergency voice alarm communication systems (EVACS) to provide pre-recorded and manual voice messages. Voice alarm systems are typically used in high-rise buildings, arenas and other large ‘defend-in-place’ occupancies such as hospitals and detention facilities, where total evacuation is difficult to achieve.
- Mass notification systems: These enhance the capability of fire alarm system to alert building occupants or even those outside the building. Mass notification systems might include PC based workstations, text based digital signage, and a variety of remote notification options including email, text message, rss feed, or IVR based telephone text-to-speech messaging.
Who are the people involved in the design, supply and installation of a fire alarm system in a new building?
There are many different people who must be involved in the supply and installation of a fire alarm system in a new building:
- An architect will design the building exterior and interior, and the floor and room layouts; and determine the usage of the rooms or floors.
- An electrical or fire alarm engineer will then use this floor and room designation for the fire alarm design, based on applicable building code and installation standards.
- A mechanical engineer will design the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. These will determine the smoke control in case of fire. Based on this, the fire alarm engineer will then determine the sequence of operation of the fire alarm system, so that alarms and warnings occur appropriately for the smoke control design.
- The fire alarm manufacturer will supply the materials and components of the fire alarm system to be installed.
- An electrical contractor will install the fire alarm system in the building, based on the fire alarm engineer’s design.
- The fire alarm manufacturer’s technician will program the system and ensure it works as per the design intent.
- When the installation is complete, the fire alarm engineer will verify the system with the help of the electrical contractor and the fire alarm manufacturer’s technician. This is very thorough process to test everything in the system as well as the interface with other systems, and it confirms that the entire life safety system is working as it should be.
- Upon satisfactory completion of the verification process, the fire alarm engineer will issue a verification certificate with engineering stamp.
What is involved in the design, supply and installation of a fire alarm system in an existing building?
If a new fire alarm system is being installed in an existing building, the process is simpler. If the project involves a new fire alarm system alone, rather than a renovation or rebuild, there will be no need for the involvement of a builder or architect. If this is the case, the project will likely involve the following:
- The task of the electrical or fire alarm engineer could involve anything from the simple drafting of a Scope of Work letter to a full site review and design drawing.
- An electrical contractor must always be involved for installation or changes.
- The fire alarm manufacturer will supply the materials and components, and their technician will program the system.
- The rest of the process, including verification by the fire alarm engineer, is similar to that for a new building.
Why is it necessary to have the fire alarm system verified?
Once the system has been verified, the builder or developer, or their representative, will submit the verification certificate to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) in the area to get inspected. In the case of Calgary, it is the City of Calgary. The AHJ will then send an inspector for the final inspection of the fire alarm system. Upon satisfactory completion of the inspection, the AHJ then issue occupancy permit.
Without a certificate of verification there is no way to get an occupancy permit.
How long does it take to design and install a fire alarm system?
In the construction of a new building, the fire alarm system is a small part of the entire project. The timing of the installation will depend on the timing of other elements, such as the floor, walls and ceiling. In most cases it is ideal to install the wiring, panel and device back-box when walls and ceiling are semi-complete, and to then install the fire alarm devices after walls and ceilings are complete.
In a modification, renovation, or replacement project, the fire alarm changes can often be done in just a few days, including the verification process.