Douglas Krantz - Technical Writer - Describing How It Works
Go to the Writer Home Page of Douglas Krantz -- Describing How It Works
Go to the Fire Alarm Operation Map Page of Douglas Krantz - Technical Writer
Go to the General Electrical Map Page of Douglas Krantz - Technical Writer
Go to the Fire Alarm Description Map Page of Douglas Krantz - Technical Writer
Go to the Fire Alarm Installing Map Page of Douglas Krantz - Technical Writer
Go to the Fire Alarm Maintaining Map Page of Douglas Krantz - Technical Writer
Go to the Fire Alarm Testing Map Page of Douglas Krantz - Technical Writer
Go to the Fire Suppression Map Page of Douglas Krantz - Technical Writer


Does the fire alarm system actually detect fire and let people know about the fire?
The question isn't whether the system works, the question is whether the system detects fire and let people know about the fire.
Douglas Krantz -- Fire Alarm Engineering Technician, Electronic Designer, Electronic Technician, Writer


Why Do We Inspect Fire Alarm Systems?

By Douglas Krantz

A long time ago, before regular testing of fire alarm systems was required, the NFPA and other fire protection professionals discovered that large numbers of fire alarm systems just weren't working... at all.

Originally, when they were installed, these systems worked properly. Over time, though, slow deterioration of the originally working system would cause a small portion of a system not to function. More time expired and another portion of the system wouldn't function. Eventually, given enough time, the whole system wouldn't work.

At that point, the building owner would think everything was working, when in reality, nothing was working.

Regular Testing

The regulators decided that the systems had to be tested on a regular basis by someone who knew fire alarm systems, and any deficiencies that were found had to be repaired.

In essence:
  • To make sure they can actually detect smoke AND notify the occupants of the building, the smoke detectors had to be tested
  • To make sure they can actually detect heat AND notify the occupants of the building, the heat detectors had to be tested
  • To make sure they can be actually pulled AND notify the occupants of the building, the manual pull stations had to be tested
  • To make sure they can actually detect water is flowing AND notify the occupants of the building, the waterflow switches had to be tested
  • To make sure they can actually sound off AND notify the occupants of the building, the fire horns and Strobes had to be tested
  • Etc.
Basically, the testing is to make sure the devices detect fire and notify the occupants of the fire.

Shortcuts in Testing

Sometimes, the temptation is to take shortcuts because economically, full testing doesn't seem practical. But shortcuts don't always show that the devices actually work.
  • Activating with a magnet doesn't show if the smoke detector or heat detector will detect smoke or heat
  • Using a key to open a pull station doesn't show if someone can actually pull it
  • Opening a flow switch and pushing the lever doesn't show if the paddle inside the waterpipe isn't broken or isn't sticking
  • Using the internal microphones inside horns and speakers or photo detectors inside strobes doesn't show that the horn or strobe isn't blocked, taped up, or otherwise prevented from notifying anyone

Bottom Line Testing

To test to see if something works, use the real thing.
  • To test a smoke detector, use smoke (whatever is recommended by the manufacturer)
  • To test a heat detector, if it doesn't destroy the heat detector, use heat
  • To test a manual pull station, use the hand to pull it
  • To test a waterflow switch, flow water
  • To test each notification device, go around and listen and look
Testing the detection devices with what the devices detect, and testing the notification devices with eyes and ears (that's what the occupants of the building are going to use) is the only true way of seeing if the devices actually work.

Magnets, Keys, Levers, Photocells, Microphones

Yes, magnets are easier to use for checking smoke and heat detectors. Yes, opening up the pull station first with the key and activating it while it's open saves time in testing. Yes, pushing the lever on the flow switch allows testing without making a mess with water. Yes, using microphones inside the sounders and photocells inside the strobes to check the notification appliances make it so someone doesn't have to go everywhere in a building.

But while all of these methods save time, none of these methods show if the devices really detect and notify.

To keep the system working so it doesn't deteriorate over time, the complete system - all the detection devices, one by one, and all the horns and strobes, one by one - need to be regularly tested.

Only with full testing can the problems be found and fixed.


More Articles

What are those Lights and Buttons on the Fire Alarm System For? -- You're now in charge of the building, be it an apartment building, office building, business complex, or industrial complex and now you have to deal... Read More

What Should One Look For in a Fire Alarm Panel? -- The question has been asked, "Which is the best fire alarm panel?" A fire alarm system isn't: installed for the manufacturer or... Read More

Do I Have to Put The Fire Alarm System On Test? -- It's the owner's fire alarm panel. The owner has bought and paid for the fire alarm system. You may be called... Read More

How Can We Fix Intermittent Beeping Troubles? -- We have a fire alarm system installed ~ 2000, it started beeping trouble, runs through all the points as troubles, then restores to normal. Fire alarm technicians cannot figure it out. Read More

 Get your free diagram showing supervision for Class B wiring

Get the book Make It Work - Conventional Fire Alarm Systems


Get help finding ground faults

Get the book Make It Work - Conventional Fire Alarm Systems


Advertisement

Want New Articles
Twice a Month?
Join Short Circuit