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Understanding the different types of commercial fire alarm system

A commercial fire alarm system is one of the most important safety features to have installed within your commercial building, but understanding the various types of commercial fire alarm system and choosing the right system for your business can be a complicated decision.

Making the right decision requires an understanding of your legal obligations and the provisions required by your building insurance provider – and this is before you start to consider the features that each manufacturer and each specific fire alarm system can provide!

Before getting into which system is best, let’s firstly cover the legalities, because the reality is that in most instances, apart from the brand of fire alarm, you will be given little choice, because the type of fire alarm system you need to install should be recommended as part of your fire risk assessment.

Current UK fire alarm regulations state that all business premises must have ‘an appropriate fire detection system’. This basically means that an outbreak of fire can easily be detected, and occupants can easily be warned and, in theory, safely evacuated.

All existing buildings except domestic premises are subject to The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. In new or altered buildings the enforcement body is the local building control.

This does not necessarily mean that all business premises will need a fire alarm system – however, in our opinion, the cost of the potential damage, loss of life and the fact that any insurance would probably be invalidated far outweighs the benefits of investing in a fire alarm system. Indeed, only the very foolhardy would choose not to install a fire alarm.

Choosing the right fire alarm system

The choice of commercial fire alarm system will depend on a number of factors which will be determined by a qualified fire risk assessor who will visit your commercial building and carry out a fire risk assessment. From this inspection, they will produce a written report which will include a recommendation for the class of fire alarm that should be installed.

This recommendation will be based on:

  • The building structure
  • The purpose and use of the building
  • Current legislation

There are basic categories of fire alarm which are based on ‘property protection’ and ‘life protection’.

Our basic guide to fire alarms explains these categories in more detail.

Fire Alarm System Categories

Let’s now consider the features of some of the fire alarm systems that Tecserv, as a BAFE approved fire alarm company, is able to install.

Fire Alarm Systems can be broken down into four categories:

  • Conventional Fire Alarm System
  • Analogue Addressable Fire Alarm System
  • Addressable Fire Alarm System
  • Wireless Fire Alarm System

Conventional Fire Alarm System

In a Conventional Fire Alarm System, a number of call points and fire detectors are wired to the Fire Alarm Control Panel in ‘zones’. When the fire alarms are sounding, it means this zone on the control panel will flash and give a rough idea as to where a fire signal has occurred. This is important information for the fire brigade and of course for building management and the evacuation procedure.

Addressable Fire Alarm System

An Addressable System is similar to a Conventional System, however its in-built technology means that the Control Panel can determine exactly which detector or call point has initiated the alarm. This means that the position in the building that has triggered a fire signal is more exact.

Analogue Addressable Fire Alarm Systems

Analogue Addressable Fire Alarm Systems are often known as Intelligent Fire Alarm Systems as each detector effectively incorporates technology that enables it to evaluate the environment around it to make an assessment as to whether the trigger is a real fire indicator, e.g. Heat, smoke and flame, or due to a fault or false signal.

Wireless Fire Alarm System

Without stating the obvious, but quite simply, a wireless fire alarm system is a full analogue addressable fire detection system but without wires.

They are an alternative to traditional wired fire alarm systems and used in buildings where it might be impractical or expensive to install wiring. They utilise secure, licence-free radio communications to interconnect the sensors and devices (smoke detectors, call-points, etc.) with the controllers.

Building structure and purpose

We have so far outlined the four primary categories of fire alarm, but some buildings such as kitchens, warehouses and places that store dangerous substances or business critical components such as server rooms, and chemical stores will require more complex fire detection systems. It may also be stipulated that additional systems are installed that both detect and suppress the fire in order to prevent it from spreading.

Warehouses often have OSID (Open Area Smoke Imaging Detection) systems installed. This may be because outdoor shutters are regularly open, fumes from forklifts and the sheer height of the building may mean that the indicators of a real fire become difficult to accurately detect.

The OSID System is based on the patented use of digital imaging, dual-frequency beams, and smart algorithms. The use of dual light frequencies in an open-path device enables OSID to discriminate between real smoke and other objects, including insects, steam, condensation and dust, thus dramatically reducing false alarms, making OSID a robust, standard sensitivity detection system

Fire Suppression

Fire suppression systems use water, mist, and other extinguishing agents to dampen and hopefully suppress a fire such that it is extinguished or at least curtailed until the fire services arrive.

You will more often than not see water mist systems fitted within buildings that are used as hotels and accommodation. Increasingly, water sprinkler systems are being installed in multi-story car parks to reduce the risk of fire from burning vehicles.

IT Server rooms are likely to be self-contained and protected by gas suppression system, or other automated suppression systems such as the BlazeCut® fire suppression system

Commercial kitchens will be protected using and ANSUL® R-102 Restaurant Fire Suppression system.

Fire equipment

In the event of a fire the primary objective is to protect people, processes and property. As well as ensuring the right fire alarm system is installed it is important to consider installing additional fire safety equipment.

These additional fire safety equipment options may include, fire extinguishers, fire blankets and fire hoses.

As long as this fire safety equipment is maintained regularly and installed in the right locations throughout your property this equipment can help to significantly reduce the cost of fire damage.

If you are considering installing a fire alarm system in your business premises or would like to discuss how Tecserv UK can help to maintain your current system, why not call us for a free, no-obligation discussion. We will help you review your risks and suggest the most cost-effective solution.


Mick Brooke

Mick has over 30 years experience working within the Fire and Security industry. Starting as an installation engineer and quickly progressing into both operational and sales management roles.

Posted on: 3 June 2019
Last updated: 5 March 2024
Posted in: Advice, Fire Systems, News
Author: Mick Brooke