What fire alarm do I need?

What fire alarm do I need? – This is a common question that I and my colleagues hear from our customers quite often;

[Customer]“I have been told that I need to have a fire alarm, what do I have to do to comply with the law

[WFP] “that depends upon your Fire Risk Assessment (FRA)

[Customer] “They said we need some automatic fire detection”

[WFP] “Did they say what level of coverage and what standard is required for your risk?”

I could go on as it tends to revolve around the fact finding mission which really dances around some basic points, I would strongly advise that you get the specification clear, the reason that I recommend this is;

Every building is different and there is a lot of different fire alarm technologies on the market and if used correctly then it can really save you money on time and installation including potential disruption, so the less time the surveyor is concerning him or herself with the design type then the more time and effort can be used making sure that the right ‘system’ is used. I know that this approach can save significant amounts of your money.

What you need to know – What Fire Alarm Do I Need?

  1. You have a need; what fire alarm do I need?
  2. You normally aren’t really sure how much ‘Protection’ or ‘Detection’ is needed
  3. You don’t really want to spend the money on it as it isn’t core to the business and basically doesn’t earn money
  4. But you do want to make sure that they are compliant with the ‘Law’ in the event that the fire officer comes calling.

So here lies the rub, often you (potential customer) will get a few ‘Fire Alarm businesses in that will provide quotations for ‘the loosely or unspecified work’, normally the surveyor that turns up last gets the most information as by then the potential client has been asked several questions and is beginning to learn what they should be specifying.

What Fire Alarm Do I Need?

Here is what you need to do (in order) – What Fire Alarm Do I Need?

  1. Get a fire risk assessment prepared by a competent fire risk assessor that you can trust* and if they recommend a fire alarm and or emergency lighting is fitted make sure that you ask for the standard that the fire alarm system is being installed to

i.e. BS5839 Part 1 2013 (which is the design recommendations for commercial grade systems), but the more important detail is what type of system?

(i) Type M – Manual system made up of call points (Break-glasses) and sounders

(ii) Type L4 – As above with detector in the corridors (escape routes)

(iii) Type L3 – As above with detector in the rooms opening on to the corridor

(iv) Type L2 – As above with a separately listed area where you need detection

(v) Type L1 – Detection throughout the building including rooms greater than 1M squared

If you have a mixed use building the fire risk assessor may designate a sub section of BS5839 which is called Part 6 – this relates generally to domestic premises and it’s not unusual for a block of flats to have the part 1 system in the lobby and common areas and part 6 system in the flats, part 6 also has ‘types’ and to make things a little more specific (meaning hard) it also has ‘grades’.

  1. If I have not already lost with the world of information above then the next thing that you need to do is make sure that when you ask for quotes that you ‘specify’ which of the levels of coverage that you have been pointed to above, you then stand a chance of getting a comparable if not ‘innovative’ quotation.
  2. I would also advise that you choose a BAFE SP203 registered company, this is a fire alarm industry equivalent of the ‘Gas Safe’ scheme and gives you a certain expectations, i.e. that the company is competent and has standards and is inspected by BAFE, although that does not negate the need to carry out other checks, such as insurance, references, credit worthiness etc. Considering that you may be spending thousands of pounds on a life safety system, when you think about it carrying out a few checks is only reasonable.
  3. Make sure that you get the certification that is required within BS5839 for Fire Alarm Systems
  4. Certificate of Design
  5. Certificate of installation
  6. Certificate of Commissioning (which is the one that is making sure it works properly)
  7. Certificate of Verification and Handover – This is the final certificate that makes sure that the job has been put in to the designer’s requirements and that the client is accepting the work that has been carried out.
  8. BAFE SP203 certification – this is the certificate that carries the third party accreditation and is lodged with BAFE for reference

Emergency Lighting

If emergency lighting has been installed as part of the works in our building the standard for this is BS5266 part 1, this has only one design type and in summary requires (in general);

Two fittings in one compartment and generally for 3-hour duration


Above critical processes, fire alarm call points, the fire alarm panel, fire extinguishers, escape routes and fire exits (signage), externally of fire exits and routes to assembly points


Of course the above only scratches the surface of specifying a fire alarm. If anything it creates some questions, that’s why we are here, if you need our advice please call us and we will do our best to let you have the benefit of our experience. You can browse our blog for more information.

* Trust is important, however, you should get proof, this will show that you have carried out due diligence, you should ask for recommendations from other organisations that the risk assessor has worked for, ideally in your sector.  Remember that the liability lies with you to ensure that you checked the credentials of whom ever you use and for the works that they have done for you.

If you felt this has benefitted you or helped you answer the question ‘What Fire Alarm Do I Need?’ then we would love to know, please get in touch.


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