Do you get a feeling of dread when you simply see a bulb lit on your fire alarm panel? The first step to making you feel more comfortable with your fire alarm panel is by understanding what basic fire alarm panel signals mean. The three most basic fire alarm panel signals are trouble, supervisory, and alarm. If you work in facilities management or maintenance it’s extremely helpful for you to understand what signals look like on most systems, common causes of activations, and how to solve the problem.

Trouble Signal

A fire alarm trouble signal is generally yellow and indicates there’s an operational issue.
Some fire alarm systems may indicate the type of trouble and its location. Here are some of the common reasons for a trouble signal.

  • Fire Alarm Batteries

    Check fire alarm batteries connections and remaining capacity. If they haven’t been changed in 3-5 years, then they may be below the rated capacity.

  • Power

    Does the fire alarm system have power? Verify the electrical breaker has not been inadvertently shut off. It’s a simple item to check, but can be overlooked.

  • Ground Fault

    There are a few situations that produce ground faults. A bare wire in the back of a fire alarm device could be touching the junction box. There may be open circuits or a wire could have gotten loose or come completely off a device. If there was a storm in the area, then a lightning strike could have produced issues with the circuits. In these cases, call your service provider to investigate the issue.

  • Copper Line to Voice Over IP

    A more recent issue is due to facilities switching from copper lines to voice over IP. Often, they forget the fire alarm is connected and then it can’t complete its daily test or dial out in the case of an emergency. If you suspect this issue caused the trouble signal, call your fire protection service provider. Ask them whether the fire alarm system is compatible with voice over IP technology. In some cases, fire alarm systems may have to retain their copper line.

Supervisory Signal

A fire alarm supervisory signal is typically yellow and indicates there’s an issue with another system that’s attached and monitored by the fire alarm system.

  • Sprinkler Valve/Tamper Switch Active

    If a fire sprinkler system was recently serviced, the sprinkler valve may have been left closed. An in-house maintenance team should be able to properly adjust the valve.

  • Low-Pressure Switch on Dry Pipe System

    Check to make sure your compressor hasn’t stopped and that it’s running properly. In some cases, the compressor can’t meet the system’s pressure demand. This could occur when there’s a small hole in the pipe that allows air to escape. In the winter, pipes may freeze and split. When the weather warms up, the ice melts allowing air to escape through the damaged pipe. A fire protection service provider needs to address this issue.

  • Duct detector

    Duct detectors tend to activate when the air conditioning or heating system is turned on at the start of the season. When the air conditioning is operating, it could be producing high humidity and condensation.  In the winter, dust that has collected on heating coils starts to burn and produces smoke. Both conditions could cause duct detectors to go off and produce a supervisory signal. Notify your fire protection company about the issue and have your filters and duct detectors cleaned regularly.

Alarm Signal 

An alarm signal is red and indicates that there’s an emergency that requires immediate attention. The following are the most common reasons for false alarms.

  • Improper Fire Alarm Maintenance

    Is your fire alarm system serviced at the proper intervals?

  • Smoke Detectors

    Unfortunately, it’s very common for facility personnel to improperly clean smoke detectors. Always have smoke detectors cleaned per the manufacture’s specifications.

  • Waterflow Switches

    The retard/delay mechanism on the waterflow switch may not be properly set. This can cause it to produce a false alarm when a surge of water flows through it. The retard or check valve could also be bad and require replacement.

  • Malicious Activations

    People maliciously activating fire alarm pull stations is a serious problem because it weakens occupants trust in the system. To deter false activations, install pull station covers.

This basic information is a guide to what common fire alarm panel signals mean. Next time your fire alarm system produces a signal, you’ll have a better understanding of the problem and how to solve it.

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