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The components of a fire alarm system (i)

Fire Alarm Systems Buyer's Guide

Terms and concepts
The fire alarm industry uses a variety of terms and concepts that you may not be familiar with. If in doubt, ask the dealer for an explanation.

One of the first concepts you're likely to encounter is when a company's fire safety engineer visits you and divides your building into sections: alarm zones, detection zones and fire compartments. This is standard practice and helps the engineer design the most suitable system for your business.

Once the engineer has completed an initial survey, you may have some decisions to make about the type of fire alarm system you want. Your system's needs, however, limit your choices.

Fire alarm control panel (FACP)
At the heart of your fire alarm system is the FACP. All your system devices connect to the FACP, which contacts the ARC when one of the devices registers a fire. The FACP also retains the details of an emergency to help fire investigators determine the cause of the incident.


  • Conventional FACP. Your engineer may recommend a conventional FACP if your business is relatively small. Dealers sometimes call such a control panel a twinflex.
  • Analogue addressable FACP. An addressable FACP has greater versatility than a conventional control panel and is particularly suited to buildings or premises where you have to install a large number of fire alarm devices.

Whatever its type, the FACP must have two power supplies. One of these is a secure supply from the electricity mains with independent fuses. The other is a lead acid battery.

Repeater panel
In certain buildings you may need repeater panels that duplicate the function of the main FACP. These panels appear at:

  • the entrances the Fire and Rescue Service may use
  • next to your security staff if they're based in a different location to the main FACP
  • strategic points throughout a large building such as a hospital

Smoke detectors

  • Optical smoke detectors. These respond quickly to the most common emergency, slow burning fires.
  • Ionisation detectors. These have a poorer response to slow burning fires but a better response than optical detectors to fast burning fires. Ionisation detectors are increasingly less popular, however, because they contain radioactive material.

Heat detectors
Heat detectors are the preferred choice to smoke detectors in dusty, smoky or steamy conditions because they are less likely to trigger a false alarm.

  • Fixed high temperature heat detectors. These have a trigger temperature of 92°C.
  • Fixed medium temperature heat detectors. The trigger temperature of these detectors is 77°C.
  • Rate of rise heat detectors. These react to a change in temperature rather than a temperature threshold.

Beam detectors
Beam detectors can be the best option for large open plan spaces. They detect the flow of hot gases from a fire.

Callpoints
Manual callpoints are the buttons you press to trigger an alarm. The buttons are set behind brittle glass or a hinged cover. Callpoint indicators tell the FACP the location of the pressed button.

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