How Does a Commercial Fire Alarm System Work?

Posted On: November 17th, 2021

It’s a fact that the sooner you are alerted to a fire, the less damage and risk to life there will be. The best way to do this? A commercial fire alarm system. But, how does a commercial fire alarm system work?

Today, you will find out as we talk you through the various types, how they work, and how to keep them in good working condition.


What is a Commercial Fire Alarm System?

Commercial fire alarm systems are a great way to protect buildings and premises from the threat of fire.

Most modern systems detect all elements of a fire. This includes heat, smoke, and in certain cases, increased carbon monoxide. Commercial fire alarm systems, while centrally controlled, can monitor multiple areas at once and provide valuable information about where a fire is actually taking place.

You’ll tend to find that commercial fire alarms are made up of a few components, and the system itself is far more than an audible warning siren or bell.

Here are the components of a commercial fire alarm system:

A Control Panel or Monitoring Station

If you’ve ever been to any large premises, such as a business or school, you have probably seen a control panel already. They are normally placed in a prominent and easy to reach position.

This control panel is the ‘brain’ of the entire system. It displays the different zones, their level of serviceability, and whether or not there is a fire present. The control panel also allows you to test the system regularly.

A Power Supply

Most commercial fire alarm systems are powered by the mains. However, you needn’t worry if the main power supply was cut off. Modern commercial fire alarm systems nearly always have a backup reserve of power, often in batteries to ensure continuous coverage.

Activation Devices

Activation devices can vary between automatic or manual, and sometimes both. A manual activation device could be a pull switch or a “break glass” style switch. Automatic activation devices can be things like smoke detectors, heat detectors, or carbon monoxide detectors.

Alarms, both Aural and Visual

This is the final step in the system. If there is a fire present, you will definitely want to know about it. Upon detecting a fire, the control panel will send a signal to an alarm. This can be an aural warning, such as a bell or a siren, but it often includes lights.

Passive Fire Control

Controlling fire isn’t just about alarms and sensors.

Passive fire control can also be controlled by a commercial fire alarm system. They can be connected to fire doors that will close in certain zones if the alarm is triggered, helping to contain the spread of fire.

You can read more about passive fire protection here.


In certain systems, the alarm system may also trigger an extinguishing agent. This can be things like sprinklers, and in certain industrial settings, carbon dioxide deployment or fire suppressing foam.

Output Devices

Commercial fire alarm systems send signals to more people than you would think.

It is possible to get them connected to a remote monitoring station. When the alarm is sounded due to a fire, emergency services can be notified precisely at the same moment as you are!


What are the Different Types of Commercial Fire Alarm System?

There are two general types of commercial fire alarm systems. They are:

  1. Manual
  2. Automatic

A manual system will require someone to become aware of the fire to sound the alarm by manually taking action, such as pulling the switch or breaking the glass on the alarm.

An automatic system requires no human input to alert you to a fire. Smoke or heat detectors and the control unit will detect the fire and notify everyone in the relevant areas that a fire has broken out.


How to Choose a Commercial Fire Alarm System

Which commercial fire alarm system is best for you? Well, this all depends on the size and purpose of your premises.

If you have small premises, you could consider fitting a manual commercial fire alarm system. However, there are a few downsides. The building has to be manned for a fire to be detected and acted upon.

An automatic fire alarm system is a one-size-fits-all approach that will work well in all environments. Regardless of whether your building is occupied or not, an automatic commercial fire alarm system will activate. In many cases will also alert the emergency services without any human input whatsoever.

If you have the choice, an automatic system is definitely the way to go.


Ensuring Safety Using a Commercial Fire Alarm

A commercial fire alarm system must work 100% of the time, no question. You have to ensure that it is well maintained and is in good working order. When was the last time you checked your system?

If the answer is “I’m not sure” then it is certainly overdue.

Here are some of the things you can do to ensure it is in perfect condition:

  • Do a weekly fire check – This can be achieved using the control panel. You could even use this check to perform a fire drill and test your fire evacuation plan periodically.
  • Check that it is sending signals to outside agencies – You should be able to notify the remote monitoring off-site that you are testing the system and double-check that they receive signals from your fire alarm control panel.
  • Check that the control unit is fully functional – Burned out bulbs? Incorrect notifications from different zones? Either of these could make your commercial fire alarm system less effective. It is also worth checking the backup power supply to ensure that you are covered if mains power is unavailable.
  • Book a professional fire consultation If all of the above sounds complex, an easy solution can be completed in minutes. Hire a professional to make an assessment of your commercial fire alarm system. They will provide all of the above checks while also ensuring that your fire protection needs are met.


Final Thought

Fraker Fire Protection offers a professional service in the California area. We have experts well-practiced in surveying and checking commercial fire alarm systems. We can also offer expert advice on upgrades or replacing your existing alarm system to ensure you are 100% protected against fire.

Why not contact Fraker Fire today, and find out what we can offer.

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