Broken Fire Alarm Panel

Can life-safety be cheap?

What would YOU choose?

Yesterday I visited a site that’d just had a fire risk assessment (FRA) carried out.

The FRA called for various additions to the fire alarm system, including an L5 design.

Now, that’s pretty unusual, but there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with is, as long as the Fire Risk Assessor is happy to accept liability for the design.

You see, an L5 system is designed for a building that has a particular risk attached to it.

Consequently the building I visited needs about 8 additional detectors in rooms that are near or would affect the apartment, which is part of the commercial building.

The system currently installed could run these additions…

…Having said that, the panel is 18 years old and obsolete.

That’s 8 YEARS past its recommended “replace” by date.

So, they had a couple of options:

1) Spend £3k adding new devices to the existing system for now.

2) Spend £5K on upgrading the panel and adding new devices at the same time.

Why would you upgrade the system for £2k extra?

Surely adding the devices is all that’s needed?

Well in this instance, no. The conventional system in place had some restrictions;

  • The system requires 9 zones and the current wiring only allows for 4.
  • The stairs are not on separate zones and therefore need to be rewired.
  • The few detectors that they already have are past their replacement date.
  • They only have about 6 bells in the whole building and need more.
  • There are lots of rooms without vision panels (these warn you that the detector in the room has operated, giving you a chance not to open the door in a fire), which means there’s probably a requirement for remote indicators.

In addition to this…

The heat detector in the kitchen is directly over the oven and causes false alarms. It’s in the wrong position, doesn’t cover the whole kitchen and there are no flashing beacons.

Flashing beacons are required as the ambient noise in the kitchen drowns out the bell which is mounted outside the door.

No one has carried out an audibility test on the site and it’s not clear if the wiring is fire rated as its not been terminated at the current control panel.

Oh, and because the panel is so old, if it did fail there are no spare parts to repair it with.

What would YOU do?

Although it’s pretty obvious that the £5k job would be better in the long run, the client does have a choice.

They could ignore the observations and just add some devices to the existing ‘non-addressable’ system. However, I find that once educated on the issues, most people want to get them resolved, which is good. But then there’s a twist to this tale…

If the client chooses to work with the existing ‘non-addressable/conventional’ wiring, assuming it’s in good condition, then the control panel could be upgraded to a modern ‘non-addressable’ control panel, new wiring installed on the stairs and other additional zones. Then just add the devices that the risk assessor has asked for.

This would probably be the cheapest solution.

Until additions are required.

Which they always are.

Then, extending the system could mean wiring back to the panel and more.

The costs and disruptions then spiral – due to the nature of this technology, it can be rather expensive to alter.

Thinking long-term

The other choice that the client has is to replace the system.

Re-wiring with new technology, designed with the capability to extend and adapt as the building changes.

There are a multitude of advantages.

Just a handful include;

  • Longer product warranty.
  • Flexibility on additions.
  • Accurate and quick location of a fire.
  • But the most striking advantage is that although the cost is higher initially, the investment will be most cost-effective over the lifetime of the installation.

This takes some explaining, but its a bit similar to the old saying

“Buy cheap, buy twice”

That’s all from me,

Paul Field
Fire Alarm Straight-Talker
WFP Fire & Security


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4 thoughts on “Can life-safety be cheap?”

  1. Hi Paul
    Its simple replace with New, spending 5k now and knowing you are meeting all new regulations, and your FRA will have all the relevant boxes ticked, you wont need to upgrade panel for 10years says it all to me
    But then in this day I would not be surprised if they go with the cheaper option (hold on lets do the maths) 3k now, then maybe next year a part on the panel fails and needs replacing oh sorry we cant get that your panel is to old now ( New Panel needed) more £££££. So now its the cost of the panel £££££, cost of the install and re-wire ££££, the cost of the FRA assessor to revisit and update ££££ and so on.
    For the sake of saving 2K they have just spent another 5k so in total they spend 8K lol.

    1. Hi Karl,
      Great Comments! What you have said is exactly true and you explain and show it very clearly in your example too.
      It’s generally the case that what looks like the cheapest option upfront, generally ends up being the most costly choice.
      Fortunately, you are not alone and people generally do realise this and act on this too.
      Thanks Again,
      The WFP Team

  2. This is an informative article …
    I added your website to my favourites.
    🙂 Looking forward to future updates.


    1. Thank you for your comments, Joseph.
      If you would like to be emailed regular updates, just fill in the form further up this post.
      And if there is anything else we can help with at all, please do let us know.
      All the best,
      The WFP Team

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