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Essential Guide to FIRE ALARM SYSTEMS


Academic year: 2021

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Essential Guide to



You could be a relatively new business, or established for many years.

The same fire safety rules will still apply – no matter what the size,

location or nature of your business.

This guide will:

• help establish if your business premises needs a fire alarm system

• explain the types of fire alarm system available

• explain the different types of detection for your fire alarm system

• help you understand the different categories of fire alarm systems

• discuss the process of installation and commissioning

• explain the regulations regarding maintenance of your fire alarm


• help you decide whether fire alarm monitoring is required for your


• explain the importance of weekly testing

• explain exactly what can happen if you don’t comply with fire safety


At the end of this guide, we aim for you to be as fully informed as

possible with regards to the installation and on-going maintenance of

your fire alarm systems.


The UK government recommends that all fire alarm and detection systems should be installed and maintained in accordance with BS 5839.

Current UK fire alarm regulations state that all business premises must have ‘an appropriate fire detection system’. This basically means that a fire could easily be detected and people within the building could easily be warned.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that ALL business premises need a fire alarm system.

You are unlikely to need a fire alarm system only if ALL of the following statements are true:

1. Your premises are small, single-storey or open-plan

2. You don’t have any high-risk substances on-site such as chemicals 3. There are no high-risk activities on-site, such as cooking

4. You don’t have any vulnerable occupants, e.g. the very young, elderly or disabled

5. If a fire broke out on-site it would be easily spotted straight away 6. Shouting ‘fire’ would be easily heard by all occupants of the building.

If one or more of these statements does NOT apply to your business, then you probably need a fire alarm system. Your Fire Risk Assessment should

specifically state if you need to install automatic fire detection.

Do I need a Fire

Alarm System?


There are 3 main types of fire alarm system: 1. Conventional Fire Alarm

2. Addressable Fire Alarm 3. Wireless Fire Alarm

Whilst the category of fire alarm you need will be specified in your fire risk assessment, the type of fire alarm system which should be chosen is decided from what is ‘appropriate’ for your business.

Conventional Fire Alarm

• divides your premises into broad zones

• in the event of an alert, the fire alarm panel identifies the zone, but not the precise area

• most suitable for smaller or lower risk environments Addressable Fire Alarm

• each individual device has its own unique electronic address

• if one activates, the fire alarm panel tells you precisely where the problem is • most suitable for larger or higher risk environments – e.g. schools, care

homes, hospitals Wireless Fire Alarm

• uses a secure wireless link between the sensors and the fire alarm panel • typically works the same as an addressable system, just without the wires • most suitable for premises where lots of cable would be unsightly – e.g.

churches, historic buildings

What types of fire alarm are there?

You could be fined

or go to prison if

you don’t follow fire

safety regulations.

Minor penalties can

be up to £5,000.

Major penalties

have unlimited fines

and up to 2 years in



What types of detector are


Optical Smoke Detector

Optical detectors are capable of detecting the visible smoke produced by materials which smoulder or burn slowly, i.e. soft furnishings, plastic foam etc. These detectors are particularly suitable for general applications as they come with a choice of sensitivity settings.

Combined Optical and Heat Detector

With its ability to detect a wide range of fires, from smouldering to flaming types, the combined optical and heat multi-sensor detector is suitable for a range of applications including light industrial, retail and office environments. It operates in a number of approved modes and sensitivities that can be selected to suit different environmental conditions.

Ionisation detectors

Ionisation detectors, although rarely used today, are suitable for clean burning fires such as petrol, metholated spirits, or paint thinners as they are more sensitive to this type of fire than optical detectors.

CO and Heat Detector

A combined CO and heat detector provides very early warning of slow

smouldering fires. Ideal for sleeping risks, the CO fire detector is also well suited to many applications where heat detection is insufficient but smoke detection causes false alarms. As CO travels more freely than smoke, the position of CO fire detectors is more flexible. This feature is particularly useful in large complex structures such as atria and warehouses, where the positioning of smoke

detectors is difficult.

Smoke, Heat and CO Detector

The multi-sensor smoke, heat and CO detector is suitable for when the environmental conditions are challenging. It uses the three sensor elements together to accurately determine the presence of fire. Its false alarm rejection properties make it the ideal choice for hotel bedrooms for example, where steam from bathrooms is a common source of false alarms.


What types of detector are


Heat Detector - Rate of Rise

Rate of rise detectors detect abnormally high rates of rise of temperature. They can be used in areas where smoke sensors are unsuitable due to environmental conditions (smoke, dust etc,) such as kitchens, locker rooms, canteens, garages and loading bays.

Heat Detector - Fixed Temperature

Fixed temperature detectors detect abnormally high (static) temperatures. As with rate of rise detectors, they’re suitable for use in areas where

environmental conditions would affect the use of smoke detectors such as kitchens, locker rooms, canteens etc.

Beam smoke detector

Designed for use in buildings with high ceilings such as warehouses and atria, the beam detector spreads a beam from one wall to another (up to a max of 100 metres apart) in order to detect smoke at higher levels.

Flame Detector

The flame detector is ideal for protecting large open areas as it’s ideal for fast response to flaming fires typically caused by flammable liquids. It provides a low-cost solution for early detection of liquid fuel fires.

Air sampling

Air sampling detection works by actively drawing air from the protected area through sampling holes in a pipe network. Sampled air is then filtered before being analysed by detectors. This system is ideal for areas where access is restricted, harsh environments and areas where a point detector would be damaged.

Video fire detection

CCTV cameras relay images to a main computer where they’re analysed. Certain patterns are actively monitored to detect either visual smoke or infra-red

radiation from heat. Ideal sites where this is used would be airports, waste management sites and tunnels.


Your fire risk assessment will determine and state which category standard your fire alarm needs to meet for your site. Below is a brief description of the various category types:

Category M systems are Manual

Alarms under this category are manual fire alarm systems where the alarm needs to be activated, for example by a person activating a break glass unit. These basic systems rely on a person to discover the fire and act on.

Category L systems are for life protection

L1 - Earliest possible fire detection

Fire alarms and detection need to be installed throughout a building to provide the earliest possible warning of fire. This is critical in commercial premises where there may be several people present on site.

L2 - Fire detection in specified areas

L2 category protection is the same as L3, but also requires fire alarms and detection to be installed in any other specified areas of high risk.

L3 – Protecting paths to fire escape

Similar to L4 category, L3 also involves installing detectors in rooms that open onto an escape route.

What are the categories of fire alarm?

The penalties for failing to

undertake a fire risk

assessment or implement

appropriate fire safety

precautions, are heavy.

They include prosecution,

financial penalties, and

potential imprisonment in

the most serious instances.


L4 – Protection of fire escape routes

Fire detectors need to be installed along escape routes and in other areas of flow, such as corridors and stairways. The objective is to ensure escape routes are protected so occupants can exit a building safely in the event of a fire. L5 – Localised fire protection

In some buildings, fire detection systems may be required to fulfil a specific fire safety requirement. For example, there could be an area of the building where a fire would pose a serious risk to the lives of occupants. In these circumstances, detectors would be necessary in these areas - whether this is one specific room or a certain area of a building.

Level 5 may be required in addition to those mentioned under levels 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Category P Fire Detection Systems

Whereas Category L systems are designed to protect life, Category P systems have the primary aim of protecting a property from fire. There are 2 options within Category P systems, which provide different levels of protection depending on the fire threat.

P1 – Complete fire protection for earliest possible warning

P1 detection systems offer the earliest possible fire warning. Detectors and alarms need to be placed in all areas of a building, so that as soon as a fire breaks out, the fire brigade can be alerted to stop the spread of the fire and minimise building damage.

P2 – Fire detectors for defined parts of a building

Where the threat to property is high in certain areas of a building, more specific detection coverage may be required. Areas with high fire risk will require special warning. This could be a single room or an entire floor of a building.


What about installation and


It’s essential that your fire alarm system is installed and commissioned by a company who is accredited by a third-party body such as BAFE.

British Approvals of Fire Equipment (or BAFE) will inspect a registered company every six months to ensure they are installing and maintaining fire alarms to a recognised standard. They also check several other requirements such as

insurance cover, quality control and the company’s and engineers’ performance to specified codes of practice.

By ensuring your fire alarm system is installed by an accredited company, you’re safeguarding yourself against fire safety legislation breaches. Your fire alarm installation company should also issue you with an official notice that your system complies with fire safety legislation, such as a BAFE Certificate of Conformity.

Once your fire alarm system is installed and commissioned, the engineer will demonstrate how to use the system and the fire alarm panel, and how to perform the weekly test.

Choosing a BAFE accredited company ensures you are covered legally should anything go wrong with your system, as you can demonstrate that your considered competence when having the system installed.




of businesses that

suffer a major fire

will cease trading


18 months!

Would YOUR


Having your fire alarm system monitored isn’t essential for most businesses, but is strongly advised. However, for residential care homes it is a legal requirement to have your fire alarm monitored. Should your fire alarm be activated, either the fire brigade or a third party will be alerted. Having your system monitored allows round-the-clock fire protection, particularly useful out of business hours when a fire could start from an electrical fault or arson attack.

What about monitoring?

UK fire alarm regulations only state that your fire alarm system must be

‘adequately maintained’. However, BS 5839 recommends that a fire alarm system should be inspected by a ‘competent person’ at least every 6 months, and the government recommends following this standard.

A comprehensive fire alarm service and maintenance contract with a company that is accredited by BAFE or another third-party accreditor, will help ensure you stay the right side of the law, and your premises and staff are protected.

You should receive a contract from your fire alarm maintenance provider that states:

• The standards the maintenance will be carried out to • How often your fire alarm will be tested

• The minimum response time to call outs

• What is included in your agreement (call outs, parts etc)

If replacement parts are needed for your fire alarm to keep it working to optimum levels, we advise this is done straight away. In the longer term this is more cost effective than paying for call outs to a malfunctioning system, or fire brigade costs to attend false alarms. It also reduces the risk of your system not operating as it should if there was a fire to break out on your premises.

Following a maintenance visit, you should receive a full written report of any devices or parts that have failed the tests. You should also be advised whether the works specified are just recommendations or whether they form a

non-compliance issue. Any non-compliance works should be completed straight away to ensure your fire alarm system protects your property and your

employees should a fire break out.

The expected lifespan of your fire alarm system is around 10-15 years. During this period, it’s important to keep your system maintained, up to date and compliant with legislation. After this period, we would recommend upgrading your fire alarm system to ensure your people and property are protected.


What is Weekly Testing?

Whilst a fire alarm service is a thorough investigation of the whole fire alarm system, weekly testing of your fire alarm system is more of a ‘spot check’. A fully functional fire alarm system is a regulatory requirement and the weekly test ensures your fire alarm is working correctly and helps identify any issues. You should have a nominated ‘Responsible Person’ to ensure the weekly test is carried out and recorded accordingly in your Fire Safety Log Book. Your Log Book will list the details that need to be recorded.

It is important to understand that this weekly test doesn’t replace the tests carried out in your maintenance contract – both are imperative to ensure you stay compliant with the Regulatory Reform Order.

A minimum of one Manual Call Point should be operated during the test to check the fire alarm panel’s ability to receive the signal,

initiate the sounder and trigger any other devices connected to the fire alarm system – for example, doors fitted with electromagnetic locking systems. It’s also good practice to test different call points every week, to ensure all devices connected to your fire alarm system are tested regularly.

The Fire Safety Log Book is

used to record fire protection

information, including the

results from weekly fire

system tests, dates when fire

safety equipment is tested

and maintained, when fire

drills are held, and training is

given to members of staff.


What happens if I don’t install

a fire alarm system?

You may be inspected by the local fire authority at any time. If you’re found not to be compliant with fire safety legislation, there are a number of routes the fire authority can take.

Enforcement notices

If you fail a fire safety check, the fire authorities can issue various notices according to the seriousness of non-compliance.

These include:

• Alterations Notice

These are issued to premises representing a high safety risk. • Enforcement Notice

This will refer to a serious issue identified by the fire authority during an inspection, and give a date by which the matter should be rectified.

• Prohibition Notice

If the risk of fire is such that there is an immediate danger to life, a prohibition notice will restrict or prohibit access to your premises.

Some of the less serious breaches of fire regulations can still attract fines of as much as £5,000, with financial penalties for serious offences potentially being unlimited. As well as a fine, you may also be imprisoned for up to two years!


Even if no-one has been hurt, suffering a fire in your business premises is a devastating event for all involved. Many businesses do not recover from a major fire. Their inability to trade effectively or deal with existing customers often leads to insolvency over time.

BusinessWatch Group are accredited with BAFE under their SP203 scheme. This ensures we follow a strict set of guidelines when designing, installing and maintaining fire safety systems.

If you have any concerns over the fire safety of your business, or require a fire alarm system installing or maintaining then please contact us immediately on

0330 094 7404

or via email at



We can help you with:

• Fire Alarm design, installation and maintenance • Fire Extinguisher installation and maintenance

• Fire Suppression System design, installation and maintenance • Emergency Lighting design, installation and maintenance

• Fire Risk Assessments • Fire Safety Training

Northern Offices: Aviation House, Swordfish Way, Leeds, LS25 6NG Devers Court, 50 Cross Bank Road, Batley WF17 8PP Southern Office: 29 The Metro Centre, Welbeck Way, Peterborough, PE2 7UH

So, is YOUR business compliant

with fire legislation?


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