Fire Alarm Panel Signals Meaning

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.

Fire Alarm Trouble Signal

A fire alarm trouble signal is generally yellow and indicates there’s an operational issue. Some fire alarm panels may indicate the type of fire alarm 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. They may fall below the rated capacity if they haven’t been changed in 3-5 years.

  • Power

    Does the fire alarm system have power? Verify the electrical breaker hasn’t been inadvertently shut off. This is often 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. When they forget about the fire alarm during the change, it remains connected to the inactive copper line and 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.

Fire Alarm 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

    Technicians sometimes forget to leave fire sprinkler valves open after service. 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 fire sprinkler 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 contractor needs to address this issue.

  • Duct Detector

    Turning on an air conditioning or heating system at the start of the season can activate duct detectors. 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.

Alarm Signal 

A red fire 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?

  • Smoke Detectors

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

  • Waterflow Switches

    Improperly set retard/delay mechanism on the waterflow switch. 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.

Download the Quick Reference Guide to Fire Alarm Panel Signals Meaning on the left and post it in your fire alarm panel. Then the 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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