Fire Alarm Top Tips – A users guide

Addressable Fire Alarm

1. How do I stop it?
2. How do I test it?
3. What does ‘Pre-Alarm’ mean?
4.  What does ‘BT’ fault mean?
When the fire alarm needs to be tested and you are the one standing in front of the panel reading unfamiliar messages, a list of answers to these questions might come in very handy.
We have put together some tips to help you deal with the situation. And maybe impress those around you with your superior knowledge.

No 1: Don’t panic (Mr Mainwaring) – this will only mean something to you if you are of a certain age, or watch the repeats of Dad’s Army on TV.  Seriously, be prepared, and there’s no need to panic. All installed systems should have drawings detailing where the smoke detectors and call points are sited in your premises. These drawings should be with your fire strategy fire risk assessment documentation in a cabinet with the fire alarm log book.

No.2: Zones -  If none of the above are locatable, then at the very least you must (under the requirements of BS5839 part 1 2002) have a pictorial representation of the building (aka zone chart) listing the areas known as ‘zones’. These should be distinguishable from each other, and ideally listed in order, to aid recognition of the areas within the building.

No.3: Codes/Key – To operate a fire detection and alarm system you must have the access code or key. The only thing that you will be able to do without this would be to silence or mute the fault buzzer if the system has a current fault.

No.4: What will happen if? – You need to understand what effect the fire alarm has on the building once it is in a fire condition. To understand this you would need to take stock of why a fire alarm is in your building in the first place.

No.5: Operating the system – You should read the manual.  I personally know that this is often low priority on the list of things to do, however it is a good starting point. I must admit after having looked through manuals that seem to be a great source of pride to the manufacturers, I have found they can sometimes be too involved, when all you want to know is the answer to a few basic questions.

This list could go on but you will understand by now that the fire alarm system operating often has a lot of consequences and it is essential to have a list of these in place beforehand.

Now, this is where you are probably getting bored, however this is why you should be using a specialist company such as WFP.  Our company policy is to always help our clients over the phone, in the first instance. Most of the panels on the market have been worked with by one of us within the business, at one time or another, and as a matter of course our engineers will always be happy to go through the system and explain the ‘Silence Alarms’ button and why you need to put the code in first – and (this is where I start to give away the trade secrets). You can’t always hear the beep of the keys when you enter the enable code if the fire alarm is actually going off so you need to take a deep breath and try again slowly.


Do our homework: Get the keys or codes to hand, and understand the things that will happen when as a result of the system going off.

Make sure that your system is being tested regularly (once a week test a call point*) and that you have a decent fire alarm company looking after you, so that when you forget the above you we can help.  Get a maintenance contract and make sure that they (the contractor) know what they are doing.

This can be ascertained by checking to see if they have BAFE SP203 third party accreditation as required in BS5839 part 1 2002 +A2008.
* Testing your fire alarm weekly and maintaining it using a competent person is a legal requirement.

The answers to the questions are:

1. How do I stop it?

After following your own site procedures you can silence the alarm by entering the user code or inserting the enable key.  Then you need to silence the alarms using the ‘silence alarms button’.  We recommend at this point that you investigate the cause of the alarm and contact your maintenance company whilst the system is still in this condition, as it aids diagnosis of the problem if the engineer can see the cause of the unwanted or false alarm.

Saving money – This as well as helping the engineer could save you money by reducing return visits to the system for further investigations.

2. How do I test it?

Make sure that you have had some training on the system and are prepared or aware of the implications of setting off your system.  Then, after warning the building users, select a call point (aka break-glass unit) and carry out the test. Next week do a different call point and do this each week until you get back to the first one. Once you have put the system back to normal mode then note the successful test in the log book.

3. What does ‘Pre-Alarm’ mean?

On more complex fire alarm systems there is a feature called pre-alarm which is designed to provide an earlier warning of a potential fire. This registers lower levels of smoke within the chamber of the detector which could be caused by a low energy fire. Most of the time systems with this feature rarely indicate it as the detector is more likely to go into a real fire condition. As detectors get older this feature can show up on devices which are contaminated (dirty) as the detector thinks that there is low levels of smoke within its chamber when in fact it’s just dirty. If you see this regularly your system could false alarm at any time and you should either clean or replace the detector in question depending upon the circumstances.

One thing to point out is that your maintenance company should be reviewing the condition of the detectors on the system and the more complex systems often have a detector checking technology which helps the engineer decide if any detectors are reaching the end of their useful life or are actually dirty.

4.  What does ‘BT’ fault mean?
This is a much shorter answer, on the radio systems that we install the BT code fault when there is a problem with the battery or the charger within the control panel. And it nothing to do with British Telecom whatsoever!

If you have any questions or experience, please add a comment below.

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