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 to understand 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.
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.
Does the fire alarm system have power? Verify the electrical breaker hasn’t been inadvertently shut off. This is often overlooked.
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. Additionally, it won’t be able to 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.
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, check that the sprinkler valve wasn’t 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 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 produce high humidity and condensation. In the winter, dust that 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. Additionally, clean your filters and duct detectors regularly.
A red alarm signal indicates there’s an emergency that requires immediate attention. These are the most common reasons for false alarms.
Improper Fire Alarm Maintenance
Is your fire alarm system serviced at the proper intervals?
Unfortunately, it’s very common for facility personnel to improperly clean smoke detectors. Always have smoke detectors cleaned per the manufacture’s specifications.
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.
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.