Fire alarm installation – and getting it right – is an essential first step towards fire safety. There are many benefits to this, not least compliance with the law. By ensuring that you design your fire alarm system with your organisation’s needs in mind, you will save time and money, and improve your safety standards.
In the UK, the law states that you must install and maintain a fire detection and alarm system in accordance with British Safety Standard 5839. That’s all well and good, but many people responsible for fire alarm safety know very little about their responsibilities. In this blog, we’ll talk about what’s involved and share with you our top tips.
How do I know what type of fire alarm I need?
Do I even need a fire alarm? We get asked this question more often than you might think. Most buildings – other than fairly small, open-plan spaces – benefit from (and, by law, have to have) some sort of fire safety system. So, if fire alarm installation is something you need to consider, what are your next steps?
Are you in charge? UK law describes the role of the ‘responsible person’. In most cases, this is the owner, employer or main occupier of the premises. So, if you’re a facilities manager, for example, in charge of the building, that would be you. In a school, a headteacher or other senior employee, might be the responsible person.
The first job that the responsible person must arrange is a fire risk assessment. This will include a detailed assessment of the type of fire alarm you need on your premises. It pays to employ the services of a fire alarm company when doing your fire risk assessment. UK legislation doesn’t specify what type of fire alarm you should have, only that it is ‘appropriate’ for your needs. But without experience, how can you possibly know what is, or isn’t appropriate? As a market leader in fire safety, that’s where we can help. We get to know our clients and their business and we can see clearly what type of fire alarm installation would work best for them.
Fire alarms come in all shapes and sizes
It’s almost impossible to describe a fire alarm in one sentence. There are multiple grades and categories, depending on the type of building and the purpose that the alarm system will be used for.
Not all fire safety companies will be able to offer you the same products, like for like. We have developed a range of alarms with different capabilities. These include:
- Standard alarms: do the essential job of alerting attention to an incident
- Monitored alarms: these systems link to remote monitoring station which immediately alerts the fire brigade and identifies an exact incident location
- VESDA aspirational alarm: the VESDA system is one of the most advanced and can detect fires earlier than any other fire alarm
Across these three categories, there is also different technology available for you to choose from.
Conventional fire alarm
This type of alarm is best suited to small or low-risk environments. The premise behind the technology is simple. We would review your building layout and divide it into zones. Each zone is wired back to the main fire alarm control panel; usually a zone would constitute a floor of the building or a specific area on each floor (also known as a fire compartment).
The control panel has lamps and if a fire incident occurs in one of the zones, the corresponding lamp is illuminated (as well as the alarm sounding). This lets you and the fire brigade know where the problem lies, although it doesn’t give you an exact location.
For this reason, we wouldn’t recommend a conventional alarm system in a larger building with a more complex layout.
Addressable fire alarm
If you’re looking for an alarm system which can pinpoint a fire more accurately, an addressable fire alarm system is the right one for you. In a larger building, with many detectors or call points, you will know exactly which one has detected the fire and triggered the alarm.
Another benefit to this more sophisticated technology is that false alarms are less likely, saving you time and money.
An addressable fire alarm is ideal for premises such as schools and care homes.
Wireless fire alarm
As the name suggests, this system uses a secure, wireless link between the control panel and the sensors installed around the building. In terms of accuracy, a wireless alarm is similar to an addressable system.
The wireless feature is clean, tidy and cable-free, making it ideal for buildings which value this feature. We often see it used in historic and listed buildings where banging nails into walls is not appreciated!
What else do you need to consider during your fire alarm installation?
When a fire alarm company designs a system for a client, they should refer to BS 5839, part 1 (2013). This standard outlines grades and categories for fire detection systems in residential homes and businesses in the UK. It also makes recommendations for you to follow, but remember, whatever you do must be appropriate for your specific building layout and usage. A fire alarm company can give you advice on this.
What grade of fire alarm is right for you?
There are six grades ranging from A to F. Grades D to F apply to residential housing, so as a business, you should ensure your alarms comply with grades A to C.
Which one is right for you depends on the fire risk factor in your building as well as how hard you’ll need your fire safety system to work. Not sure where to find this information? Check your fire risk assessment – it should all be in there.
A grade A system is the top grade currently outlined by BS 5839 and will include a wide range of fire alarm and detection features. Think of it as the all-singing, all-dancing fire alarm system.
You also mentioned categories…?
When we talk about categories, we’re thinking about the level of protection you need to provide to occupants of your building.
There are two main classifications: P (for property) and L (for life). Nice and easy to remember! Categories P1 and P2 describe protection for property only, so these are usually required by insurers for empty premises. P1 will ensure you have protection throughout your building while P2 allows for protection only in specified high risk areas.
When it comes to life protection, there are six categories, ranging from L1 to L5 and M. Which one you choose depends on how your premises are occupied. Some parts of the buildings may not need the same level of fire cover as others. So, while category L1 offers automatic fire detection in every room of the building including cupboards and circulation areas, at the other end of the scale, category M provides for a manual system with call points around the building. This is the lowest level of life protection and only suitable for buildings where a fire would be immediately apparent.
Again, your fire risk assessment can help you decide which one is most suitable.
So, what’s next?
We know there’s a lot of information to digest. But once you’ve got your head around the multiple categories and grades, you’ll have a clearer picture of the perfect fire alarm system for your premises. And once design and installation are completed, the final step in the process is commissioning. This involves a thorough test of the system to ensure it is correctly installed and fit for purpose.
It can be hard knowing who to trust when it comes to working with an external supplier. We would always recommend that you choose a third-party accredited company (e.g. BAFE). This gives you extra peace of mind knowing that their certifications, experience and processes have been independently checked.
We’d love to help you take control of your fire safety. Give us a call today and we can talk to you more about our longstanding experience in fire alarm system design, installation and commissioning.