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Understanding Different Types of Fire Alarms

Installing a fire alarm is a legal requirement and can be the difference between saving lives and your business, and losing it all. Recent government statistic show that from 2011 to 2012, reveal that in the case of non-domestic fires, alarms were present and able to alert people of a fire’s presence just 33% of the time. Fire AlarmsIt’s essential for fire safety that you install a fire alarm. It’s equally important that you choose the right fire alarm system. There are a number of fire alarm systems you can choose from to ensure the fire safety and the protection of your property. The type of fire alarm you select will depend on various factors, from the size and structure of the site to the building’s use. You can use your fire risk assessment to help you decide which type of fire alarm is needed. You’ll also want to take your budget into account – but don’t be tempted to save money or cut corners on this vital piece of equipment. All fire alarms work on the same basic principle – they detect smoke or heat and sound an alarm to warn people of potential danger.

The main fire alarm systems in use today are:

  • Conventional
  • Analogue
  • Radio
  • Wireless
  • Voice Alarm Systems
  • VESDA Fire Alarms
  • Fire Alarms for the Deaf
  • Disabled Refuge Fire Alarms

Conventional fire alarms

This fire alarm is a circuit based system that comprises of detectors, located in different zones, which are wired to a central control panel. Often, each zone will cover one floor of the building. Once a fire has been detected, an alarm will sound in that location to alert occupants. A warning will also be issued to the control panel. Conventional fire alarms are useful in helping you locate the source of a fire so that you can take action to isolate it. These alarm systems use technology that has a proven record of effectiveness.

Analogue fire alarm systems

Analogue fire alarms are also wired to a central control panel, but the difference is that these alarms have a much greater capacity than the conventional alarm system. The conventional alarm is more suited to smaller premises, but with an analogue fire alarm, you can protect very large buildings. These fire alarms are highly sensitive and can also pinpoint the location of the fire more accurately than conventional fire alarms. Another feature of these alarms is that the sensitivity of the monitors can be altered, which can help to eliminate the risk of a false fire alarm.

Radio fire alarms

The radio fire alarm communicates with a central control panel and operates over reliable, licence-free UHF channels. These fire alarms are easy to install because they do not rely on hardwired systems and therefore do not require cables. This means that they’re suitable for listed and historical buildings as they will not cause any damage, and there are no cables left lying around – so this is the most pleasing type of fire alarm visually. This type of smoke alarm is especially suitable to construction sites, where cabling would be a problem. The system can also be moved easily as construction progresses.

Wireless fire systems

As the name suggests, like radio fire alarms, wireless fire alarms do not require any cabling. The alarms work through a radio frequency with a long-range of up to 1.5km, making them suitable for buildings of all sizes. Much like a radio fire alarm, wireless fire alarms are easy to install and are more aesthetically pleasing. Additionally, they can be installed on a temporary basis.

Voice alarm systems

This alarm system can play different pre-recorded messages across a large area. These messages can help occupants escape to safety quickly and can even give live advice. Voice alarms can be configured to give specific advice for different areas of a building, so that the location that’s most at risk from the fire will receive evacuation instructions but an area some distance away from the source of danger could be given a warning and put on standby. This type of alarm is particularly effective in settings such as prisons and hospitals. There is some evidence to suggest that a voice alarm system can speed up the evacuation of a building.

VESDA fire alarms

VESDA stands for ‘very early smoke detection apparatus’. VESDA alarms have sensors that are able to monitor the air and detecting a fire long before any smoke is visible. This means that it can warn occupants at the very early stages of a fire. Air is drawn into a chamber, where it is analysed for any initial signs of smoke. The early warning system gives you the valuable time that’s needed in a fire to investigate the cause, so that you can assess the situation and react accordingly. This may be all that’s needed to save lives and reduce the impact of the fire.

Fire alarms for deaf people

This alarm is tailored to those with audio difficulties. You simply connect pagers to the central fire alarm system. If a fire is detected, these pagers will vibrate and send emergency text messages to alert staff. There are flexible settings so that the pager can both tone and vibrate according to your preference. The alarm can be prioritised so that the member of staff carrying the pager can investigate before the fire and rescue service is alerted. It offers a reliable frequency that can be used in commercial and industrial settings up to a range of around 10,000 sq ft.

Disabled refuge fire alarms

Non-domestic buildings with more than one floor are required to have a disabled refuge area and a safe means of escape for fire emergencies. A disabled refuge fire alarm system should be installed so that those with mobility difficulties can safely seek refuge in these areas. The fire alarm system then alerts a main control panel, allowing fire marshals to communicate with the refuge areas. This is a legal requirement – disabled refuges must have a two-way, fireproof communication system in place so that a fire marshall can assess the situation and keep in contact with staff to ensure their safety.

Make sure your alarm is approved

When you’re purchasing a fire alarm system, make sure that it conforms to British Safety Standards and always ask a skilled fire alarm technician for advice if you’re unsure. Photo Credit: timsnell via photopin cc

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