Life Safety 101: A beginner’s guide to commercial fire alarm systems

Life Safety 101: A beginner’s guide to commercial fire alarm systems

red eps fire keypad

red eps fire keypadWith firefighters responding to an estimated 140,000 structure fires every year, a comprehensive life safety system is essential for protecting both the lives of employees and property. Life safety systems aren’t installed just as precautionary measures, either: building codes dictate that every business must contain a functioning fire system to remain operational. Because of this, anyone interested in managing a property or opening a business will inevitably be confronted by the need to install and maintain a life safety system—whether or not they know a horn/strobe from a heat detector.

Designing and installing a quality life safety system that meets local building codes can be incredibly complex, but understanding how the devices function doesn’t need to be impossible for business owners. At EPS Security, we work with our customers and local authorities to develop a comprehensive and customizable life safety solution to protect both lives and property, all while meeting code requirements. We’ve taken the time to gather the more essential details of common life safety devices to give you a better understanding of your current solution—and potentially find ways to bolster the safety of your employees and your business.

Fire protection–and beyond

Often commonly associated with fire detection, a comprehensive life safety is actually engineered to detect a number of life-threatening and property-damaging hazards ranging from carbon monoxide poisoning to leaky pipes.

smoke detector

Smoke detectors

Smoke detectors are a fundamental component of any comprehensive fire alarm system. As their name suggests, their primary function is to detect and alert a building’s occupants to the presence of smoke in the air. EPS installs smokes detectors that utilize photoelectric sensors to detect smoke particles as they cross beams of light. With their relatively small size and ease of placement, smoke detectors can be installed in relatively limited spaces or in larger rooms to provide maximum protection. While local building codes often determine specifics such as quantity and location, EPS Security Consultants and Engineers work with properties managers and those in charge of commercial facilities to design systems that maximize the efficiency of their smoke detectors to best protect occupants and property.

co detector

CO detectors

Carbon monoxide is released whenever fuel is burned incompletely, which means every business with a water heater is at risk for CO poisoning. CO detectors use electrochemical sensors that send signals to the fire alarm control panel the moment carbon monoxide is detected. With more than 15,000 people sent to emergency rooms each year from CO poisoning, CO detectors are essential additions to any life safety system.

hand pull station

Hand pulls

When most people think fire alarm systems, this is the device with which they are most familiar. Hand pulls are easy-to-recognize devices that function much as their name suggests. In the case of a fire or other life safety emergency, an occupant can pull the handle down on the device to trigger an alarm signal to the fire panel, thus activating the strobes and sirens. Where it may take several minutes for smoke to reach a smoke detector, a hand pull can be activated by a person onsite within seconds of an emergency occurring, allowing for faster evacuation and reaction times by emergency services. Hand pulls can come in different shapes and sizes and are typically offered with back-boxes or covers if requested.

horn strobe

Horn/strobes

A fire alarm system is full of devices designed to detect fires and other emergencies as early as possible, but such systems are only effective if they can notify every occupant in a building of the danger. Horns and strobes are the devices mounted throughout a building that activate once a fire panel has received an alarm from elsewhere on the system. Horns are the “sound” portion of an alarm event, and their purpose is to audibly alert everyone in the vicinity that there is an emergency. Strobes are the “sight” facet of an alarm. During an alarm event, they flash (strobe) in bursts to visually cue occupants that an alarm is going off.

Most businesses utilize horn/strobe devices to both audibly and visually alert occupants of an ongoing alarm event. However, in many cases, standalone horns or strobes are used to offer efficient yet effective protection. Regardless of their type, building code compliance requires horns and strobes be mounted in a manner where occupants in a facility can easily hear or see one regardless of their position in relation to the device. By doing so, it increases the likelihood that everyone inside the building will be notified of an emergency in the event of an alarm–and potentially save lives.

ONYX Series of Fire Alarm Control Panels and Devices

Voice evacuation 

Horns and strobes can alert employees to immediate fire dangers, but the frequent occurrence of fire drills and false alarms can create “alarm fatigue,” dulling the sense of urgency typically associated with such events. Additionally, simply blaring alarms through a large facility can lead to a chaotic evacuation. Voice evacuation systems were created to alleviate these problems. As an enhancement of a traditional fire alarm system, a voice evacuation system broadcasts pre-recorded messages throughout a building to guide occupants out of the building through the safest route using coherent direction. The systems are extremely versatile, as recordings can be made for various life safety situations, including fires, severe weather, gas leaks, active shooters, and more.

A more organized evacuation procedure can equate to less risk to a building’s occupants, and the ability to record customized messages for different emergency scenarios gives a voice evacuation system a distinct edge over the standard “same alarm for every situation” horns and strobes solution. Voice evacuation systems work so well that the state of Michigan requires them in high-occupancy assembly, educational, and high-rise facilities. Some industry experts believe voice evacuation systems will eventually completely replace standard horn/strobe systems as technology becomes streamlined and code compliance changes.

water bug sensor

Water sensors

Water (sometimes called flood) detectors are often placed on floors in areas where water leaks can potentially occur; e.g., sump pumps, hot water heaters, under bathroom or kitchen sinks. Once water reaches the contact inside the device, the sensor communicates a signal to the fire panel, which then notifies the EPS Monitoring Center that something is wrong. Anyone who has ever experienced water-related property or structural damage can tell you that repairing even a small amount of water damage can cost thousands of dollars, so early leak or flood detection with a water sensor is essential. Water sensors should realistically be placed near any area where a water leak could occur, but should nearly always be used where a leak would cause extensive damage.

Temperature sensors

Temperature sensors can be set to high or low settings, meaning they can detect if temperatures rise of fall below a certain level. They are valuable assets for areas such as IT rooms or freezers that must be kept below a certain temperature. Considering how expensive the equipment in a server room or the food product in a large freezer might be, a temperature sensor is a solid investment in the early detection of potential cooling problems.

Alternatively, heat detectors are frequently used in places where smoke and steam would otherwise prohibit the placement of a conventional smoke detector, such as a kitchen or bathroom. Heat detectors are also beneficial in detecting fires that do not give off a lot of smoke, adding an extra layer of protection against property damage and potential loss of life.

Fire alarm devices wired together in the EPS Technician Training room.

The EPS Advantage

The rules governing life safety system installation are complicated and even vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Whether opening a new business or updating an outdated fire system, the process for engineering and installing life safety systems can be a headache for property managers and business owners. It’s for this reason that local businesses overwhelmingly choose EPS Security as their life safety system provider. It’s not just that we use top-of-the-line devices from industry-leading manufacturers. We’ve proven over nearly 65 years of working with Michigan businesses that we are experts in crafting customized solutions that both fit our customers’ needs and meet code requirements. We’ve made it a point to foster strong relationships with local authorities to ensure the smooth and expedient installation of systems that pass muster and perform to our lofty standards for excellence.

When it comes to protecting your employees and property, don’t settle for anything less than the best. Choose the company with six decades of know-how and proven history in helping West Michigan secure their businesses. Choose EPS Security and discover the EPS Advantage for yourself.

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