By Douglas Krantz
I suppose it was used because the technician programming the fire alarm system was totally familiar with the acronym AFA and what it means. But still, in an elementary school the acronym AFA (Automatic Fire Alarm) shouldn't have been programmed into the zone descriptions for fire alarm system.
The trouble is that even after seeing that description on the panel for years, the head custodian at the school still asked me what "AFA 1st Floor West Corridor" meant. He had no idea what an AFA was supposed to be. The term "AFA" wasn't relevant to him.
Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) Devices
First though, just a as a refresher, let's look at the difference between an Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) Device and a Manual Fire Alarm Device.
With an automatic fire alarm device, no one is needed to activate the fire alarm system; it's automatic.
- People can be asleep
- People can be working in another part of the building
- People don't even have to be present at all
Without anyone, the fire alarm system will still activate if, using an Automatic Fire Alarm Device, it detects the presence of fire, or at least what the AFA Device interprets as the presence of fire.
The AFA device can be:
- Smoke detectors that detect smoke from a fire and sound the alarm
- Heat detectors that detect heat from a fire and sound the alarm
- Flame detectors that detect the flickering light from a fire and sound the alarm
- Waterflow switches that detect that water is suppressing a fire and sound the alarm
Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) Devices are devices that activate the fire alarm system without human intervention.
Manual Fire Alarm Devices
Unlike Automatic Fire Alarm Devices, Manual Fire Alarm Devices don't do anything until a person activates it. In other words, someone has to manually activate the fire alarm system. Running down the hall, banging on doors, and shouting "fire" is a form of a manual fire alarm system.
For the fire alarm system, Pull Stations are a common form of manual fire alarm devices.
Single Action -- The fire alarm system is activated when the glass is broken and the button pops out, or when the lever is pulled.
Double Action -- Before the actual manual station is able to be pulled a glass cover has to be broken or a door has to be pushed out of the way.
Pre-signal -- To reduce false alarms, once the lever has been pulled but before the fire alarm system sounds the alarm, some manual pull stations only activate a light or a sounder somewhere else so a person with a key can investigate first.
Manual Fire Alarm Devices are devices that require human activation.
Technical Words -- AFA and Manual
AFA and Manual are technical words that, to those working in the fire alarm industry, carry specific meaning.
The thing is, though, the descriptions used in a fire alarm panel aren't for those in the fire alarm industry. The descriptions are for:
- Fire Fighters -- They put out fires
- Custodians and Caretakers -- They clean buildings
- Building Engineers -- They maintain buildings
- Building Management or Office Personnel -- They run businesses, schools, hospitals, etc.
These are all examples of people who have to deal with the fire alarm system but have not been trained in the technical aspects of a fire alarm system. Let's keep our descriptions relevant to those who are required to deal with the fire alarm system.