May 18 2023 0Comment
Security Monitoring

A Guide to Fire Alarm Central Station Monitoring

Article by Jim Harrigan – Fire Alarm Service Sales Manager –

Why monitoring is important

One of the most important aspects of fire protection to a building and its occupants is to have in place a central station monitoring service for the fire alarm control panel and/or sprinkler system in a building. Having a properly monitored system in your building increases fire department response time by giving immediate notification to the local FD of a fire alarm activation that results from a fire or smoke build up in the building. It also provides you as a building owner/representative a way to supervise remotely and be notified of potential threats or issues with the fire protection system in your building. This is accomplished by having the central station notify you when an issue has occurred that could threaten the proper functionality of the system.

Your responsibility as a building owner or building representative

                As a person responsible for the safety of a building, it is important to establish monitoring of the fire protection system in the building, but even more important is to understand and properly be able to interpret the information that is being communicated to you from a central station monitoring operator. When setting up a monitoring account with your fire alarm provider, you should be completing a “Responding party” or “Call List” which identifies persons who would share some responsibility with yourself as those in charge of making sure that if issues occur at the building, people are notified who can properly determine how the issue should be handled.

Often times, when an issue occurs in the building and you receive a call/e-mail/text alert from the central station, you are caught off guard because you did not anticipate the issue, or it happens late at night when you may be sleeping. Waking up to a phone call that the building you are responsible for can be a frightening thing to experience.

                One of the biggest responsibilities of fire protection companies such as Oliver is to educate our customers who utilize our central station monitoring on what the signals they are being notified about mean, and what action they should take when they receive notification from the central station.

There are three basic levels or categories that a fire alarm signal may apply to;

  • Alarm
  • Supervisory
  • Trouble

Alarm Signals

                An alarm signal is the highest priority signal, and would pertain to an actual fire alarm being generated by an initiating device in the building (smoke/heat detector, manual pull station, water flow sprinkler switch, etc.). One of those input devices would going into alarm whether by a false alarm or true alarm. If the system is working properly, this would also activate the output notification and relay controls in the building that are connected to the alarm signal.

When you receive a phone call from the monitoring station on an alarm, in traditional and most commonly used Contact ID alarm reporting, it will come through as some form of a 100 coded signal. When this occurs, in most if not all jurisdictions, the FD would be notified before you and already on the way when you receive the phone call. It is important to communicate with the FD and/or have a designated “runner” on your team that can go to the building and assess the situation with the FD. Identify if the fire alarm was false or true, and take appropriate action to resolve the issue.

Supervisory Signals

                The 2nd priority signal is a supervisory signal, or Contact ID code “200” signal. Devices connected to your alarm system that would possibly trigger a supervisory signal are devices that monitor other control functions of your system. These can be but are not limited to: Fire Pump signals for your sprinkler system, Sprinkler system control valves that control the ability for water to enter the system when needed (tamper valves), Monitoring of air pressure of your dry sprinkler system, and duct detectors that are typically installed to monitor the presence of smoke inside an HVAC unit or duct work, and designed to shut down those HVAC units to prevent the unwanted spread of smoke.

While no signal should be taken lightly in this level, it is important to understand which ones require immediate attention, and which ones may not require immediate attention.

Sprinkler system devices should work properly at all times, so unless the signal is because of an already known issue that is being worked on, it is recommended to react as quickly as possible for those signals.

Duct detector issues can be common due to various factors related to the cleanliness of the air entering duct work. False alarms can occur on duct detectors if filters are not changed regularly, or construction work in a building causes a larger normal amount of dust and debris in the air; giving the detector the impression that it may be an excess amount of smoke.

It is encouraged to contact your fire alarm provider immediately upon receipt of one of these signals, and let us inform you the best way to proceed with handling the issue.

Trouble Signals

                The 3rd and final priority signal is a trouble signal or Contact ID code “300 signal”. Any device connected to your alarm system; whether it be the control panel itself, initiating device, control/relay device, or output/notification device could generate a trouble signal. A trouble signal can be an issue that requires immediate attention, but may also just be a “nuisance” trouble, that may be a nuisance because the control panel or annunciator panel will begin to beep alerting you to the issue, and if occupants of the building hear that trouble, they may not appreciate the constant beeping.

In this category, I would interpret communication troubles as the most important to address immediately. This type of trouble could impact the ability of your system to properly dial out to the Fire Department or to you, when it needs to. Also, any type of AC power loss would indicate your system running on battery only, or if you receive notification that more than 5 individual initiating devices in your building are in trouble within a short period of time, you may want to act.

Again, it is always encouraged to contact your fire alarm service provider to determine the best course of action with regards to receipt of these types of signals.

Our Goal

                As fire alarm service providers, we pride ourselves on the ability to interpret these signals, and inform our customers on the best course of action based on what we see remotely from central station signals. We have access to these signals 24/7 and can access the history at any time to help you better understand what is happening. If interested in more information related to fire alarm monitoring, and how Oliver can help you better protect and understand your building system, reach out to a representative from Oliver for more information. (610) 277-1331