Fire alarms

A fire alarm is a vital part of a business security system - read on to find out why

What measures are in place to protect your business from a fire?

While this is a scenario that you may not want to think about, it’s essential to prepare for such an event in order to protect your premises, property and staff, as part of your business security plan.

But what is a fire alarm? And why might your business need one? What’s the difference between wired and wireless alarms? What are some of the main features of the devices, and how is a fire alarm installed?

We’ll provide the key information you need to know to help you learn more about fire alarms for your small business.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  1. How do fire alarms work?
  2. What are wireless fire alarms?
  3. Why is a fire alarm panel important?
  4. What are the different types of fire alarm sounders?
  5. Fire alarm installation: What’s the process?

Skip to the section that you want to find out about the most, or read the whole article for a more in-depth guide to fire alarms.

Alternatively, to compare quotes for business security straight away, simply complete the form at the top of the page.

1. How do fire alarms work?

When choosing a fire alarm, one of the key questions to consider is how it will be powered – mains or battery, or a mixture of both?

Essentially, fire alarms can be mains powered (using your business electricity connection) or battery powered. It’s also possible to opt for fire alarms that use a combination of power sources (so both mains and battery powered), with the batteries offering a secondary form of power.

If the alarm is battery powered, assess how accessible it is – can the battery be changed easily, or is it sealed in, and so doesn’t need to be replaced?

In addition, check the battery’s life expectancy- some batteries may last for 10 years, while others may have a longer life.

There are several different types of smoke alarm available. These include:

  • Ionisation – an inexpensive option that can detect small size smoke particles in fast fires
  • Optical – offered at a higher price point, this type can detect larger smoke particles in slow fires
  • Heat alarms – these are specifically designed to activate upon an increase in temperature in a small area, such as a commercial kitchen in a restaurant or cafe, for example (depending on the size, multiple alarms may be required to adequately cover the area)
  • Combined – smoke alarms that offer multiple functions are also available, such as combined optical smoke and heat alarms, as well as combined smoke and carbon monoxide alarms

Some fire alarms may offer additional features – for example, an emergency light, or those that can also detect carbon monoxide, as well as smoke, as mentioned above.

If you’re fitting a fire alarm near a kitchen, then consider one that is toast proof.

When researching smoke alarms, you’re likely to come across many devices labelled as 85 dBA. This refers to the level of sound they omit – dBA stands for A-weighted decibels.

There are three main types of fire alarm – these are:

Conventional fire alarms

With this type of alarm, the property is divided into zones. When the alarm is activated, it can alert you to the zone it occurred in only. Therefore, this type is likely most suited to small premises or those with a low risk of fire.

Addressable fire alarms

A system with addressable fire alarms means that each device has an ‘address’ and so it’s possible to pinpoint exactly where it was activated.

This type of fire alarm is probably best suited to bigger premises, as well as those with a higher fire risk – food businesses or those working with chemicals (such as construction companies, hairdressers or beauty salons), for example.

2. What are wireless fire alarms?

In wireless fire alarms, the control panel, sensors and other devices are connected via radio. They work in a similar way as an addressable system, only without the wires.

They’re particularly suitable for businesses that might not want visible wires on their premises – a luxury shop, for example.

Wireless fire alarm systems offer flexibility, and can be configured with different combinations of devices.

Plus, they can more easily accommodate the needs of a building than wired systems (such as retaining historic details or brand design). Wireless fire alarm systems can also be expanded easily.

The different components of wireless fire alarm systems communicate via channels and antennae.

3. Why is a fire alarm panel important?

The central component of a fire alarm is the fire alarm panel, as all devices and elements of the system connect to, and communicate with, the panel.

A fire alarm panel works by zone capacity: how many zones (areas) of your premises it can cover determines its complexity.

Like the fire alarms themselves, there are also three types of fire alarm panel. These are:

  • Conventional – the most basic type; it can show which zone the fire was in and connects the call points and detectors, although the sounders have to be connected on their own circuit
  • Two wire – a mid-point between the basic and the more advanced types, a two wire panel operates in much the same way as a conventional panel. The key difference is that the sounders can also be included on the same circuit connection
  • Addressable – the most advanced option; this type of panel can connect all devices on the fire alarm system through the same connection. It can also identify where exactly in the zone the alarm was activated e.g. the kitchen or the meeting room

The control panel – like the alarm and other components – can be battery powered, enabling it to operate wirelessly.

Also, think about how the panel will be accessed – in person, or remotely as well?

Consider if your business needs a panel with remote access. If you spend a lot of time away from your premises, or if it’s unattended for long periods of time or overnight, for example, then this may be especially useful. You may also wish to consider CCTV cameras too.

4. What are the different types of fire alarm sounders?

A fire alarm sounder plays a noise or message to alert people when a fire alarm has been activated.

There are several different types of sounders. Similar to alarms, sounders are available in the following formats:

  • Conventional
  • Two wire
  • Addressable

Some may have additional functions, such as voice sounders that offer alerts through sound and voice messages.
Another example is escape lights on fire alarm devices, which offer an alternative form of lighting during evacuation.

In addition, vibrating pads or strobe lights are available to notify people with visual or hearing impairments.

5. Fire alarm installation: What’s the process?

Depending on your business’ requirements, you may be able to install a fire alarm yourself, or you may need to hire a professional to do it.

If you run a business from home, then you may be likely to opt for the ‘DIY’ approach, while if you own a bigger business with a commercial premises, this is likely to require professional installation.

If you rent a coworking space or a serviced office, it’s wise to check with the provider what fire alarms they have in place.

Some types of fire alarms that may need to be installed by a professional (a qualified electrician or engineer) include:

  • Fire alarms that connect with intruder alarms
  • Wireless fire alarms
  • Fire alarms with radio compatibility
  • Mains-powered fire alarms

If you opt for professional installation, the number of fire alarms your business needs (one, or more?), is often part of the service provided by a fire protection company.

Conversely, if you fit the alarms yourself you’ll need to decide this – in either case it depends on the size of the area to be covered, as well as the legal regulations concerning your specific type of business and premises.

Some benefits of hiring a company for professional installation include the expertise they offer, as well as guarantees and call out services potentially, which can help to offer extra security and peace of mind.

On the other hand, the cost- and time-saving benefits of installing a fire alarm system yourself may be appealing (if relevant) for some small businesses.

On the fire alarms themselves, you should check that they meet British Standards (BS 5839 – the UK regulatory standard for fire alarms systems for buildings) and European (recognised by the ‘CE’ symbol) marks of approval.

The alarms tend to be fitted on the ceiling; although some may be able to be wall-mounted. Fire alarms should be screwed into place – they shouldn’t be glued, as if the glue gets into the alarm, it could break it and render it ineffective.

Fire alarm installation: What happens next?

Once the fire alarm has been installed in your premises, there are other areas of fire protection you could consider as part of protecting your small business. For example:

  • Fire suppression equipment e.g. sprinklers
  • Fire training e.g. to become a fire warden or marshal

What are the next steps?

At this stage, you’ve learned more about fire alarms for small business, including the difference between wired and wireless fire alarms.

We’ve also looked at some of the key components, such as fire alarm panels and fire alarm sounders, and provided insight into the fire alarm installation process.

Next, you can read our pages on intruder alarms, water detectors and alarm system costs for more specific information about these other areas of business security.

Or, to compare quotes for business security now, fill in the form at the top of the page.