Fire Alarm System Types

We’ve observed that, over the last dozen plus years of providing fire alarm upgrades, 70 – 80% of the fire alarm systems being replaced are three-wire, Pac Pro (Pacific Protective) systems. The District of Saanich has pursued the removal of these systems within their municipality over many years and is still pursuing the remaining few in existence. A great many of our upgrades in the Greater Victoria area have also included these systems, and for good reason.

The current level of fire safety in a building is directly related to the level of technology in your fire system. The highest level of life safety encompasses early detection, fully audible warning, and outside monitoring that call fire departments, as well as a self-supervised fire alarm system that will indicate any problem on the system.

Early Detection

Smoke detectors in common areas, stairwells, and elevator shafts are critical to ensure early warning.
Heat sensors in all areas of a building, such as mechanical, storage, and boiler rooms, as well as suites, are essential to ensure full building coverage.

Audible Warning

Current code requires an audibility level of 75db in a sleeping room and a minimum of 65db in all other areas. This is to overcome the construction methods in older buildings that normally dampen sound from bells located in hallways, resulting in a low level of audibility inside of suites during an emergency. This is overcome by installing mini-horns in suites and bedrooms, and horn in hallways, to give instant notification upon fire alarm system activation.

Outside Monitoring

The difference between smoke damage, fire & water damage, and complete loss is measured in minutes. By having the fire alarm system monitored by an outside service, fire department notification and dispatch is counted in second, instead of the many minutes it might normally take for someone to call in the emergency.

Self-Supervised Systems

When an abnormal condition occurs in the self-supervised system, such as power loss, ground fault, device failure, or tampering; the problem will be reported immediately and will not silence until conditions are rectified. This ensures owners are made aware of problems promptly, that the system is fixed quickly, allowing it to always be functioning as it should.

Three-Wire & Pac Pro Systems

These systems do not allow any of the above:

  • Does not support smoke detection
  • Does not support in-suite mini-horns
  • Does not support outside monitoring
  • Does not support self-supervision

In fact, in a fire condition, these systems have been known to reset themselves, giving the impression that the problem has been resolved, while the building is still on fire. The system can be de-activated, in part or in full, without any notification of a problem in the system. Short of during monthly and annual testing, there is no guarantee that the system is fully functional at any given time. As there are no factory listed parts available for repair, aside from decades old and used parts; any repairs cannot be guaranteed except during testing itself. If the panel fails, and no parts are available, you may find yourself having to institute a 24-hour/day fire watch, throughout the building, until the system is either repaired or fully upgraded. In our opinion,

this leaves you with the lowest possible level of fire safety,
short of having no alarm at all in the building.

Which should be a concern for all; whether the fire department, fire service company, or owner/residents of the building.

The two main types of fire alarm systems currently being installed are Conventional and Addressable systems.

While addressable fire alarm systems provide excellent safety in complex buildings, such as care and detention facilities; they are often unnecessary for the average apartment-style building. A conventional system, which provides all of the same equipment and coverage as an addressable system, is often the easier, and less expensive, long term investment.

Addressable systems are often proprietary, meaning that you will be limited in your future choice of service provider. As well, replacement parts can be more expensive than conventional devices, and harder to source.

We recommend, and have installed numerous, conventional fire alarm systems for our clients primarily for their ease of use, reliability, and flexibility in choice of future service provider. Anyone can work on them, it is easy to source parts, and they are simple systems to understand.

Overall savings by installing conventional systems can be substantial, as well as providing potentially lower expenses for both annual testing and repairs down the road.

For the above reasons, we highly recommend that Owners and Strata Councils consider a conventional fire alarm system. We invite you to call us to discuss your fire alarm system and ways to improve the level of fire safety in your building.

A Word About Wireless Systems

While the world today is full of all types of wireless technology, the fire alarm market has been slow in adopting wireless systems due to the strict nature of the codes and listing requirements for life safety equipment. It would appear that a completely, or mostly, wireless fire alarm installation would present some significant cost savings to the owner. The reality is that wiring will still be require throughout the building in order install all required devices to meet code standards and, in the case of wireless systems, more equipment will be needed rather than less.

However, the nature of the existing building environment and modern construction methods can present some challenges to the use of wireless fire alarm technology. Fire-rated concrete walls, floors and ceilings, along with glass and steel construction, can block or weaken wireless signal strength, leading to challenges maintaining the required communication protocols with life-safety equipment. It is for this reason that additional zone controllers would be required in each floor, much like needing multiple routers to be able to get your internet signal throughout the house.

While wireless systems have been embraced in the United States and as “add-on” devices in home security systems, there is only one system listed at “Coming soon” for commercial use in Canada. Sadly, it is the third generation of its kind and the first two systems were plagued with problems. We highly recommend hardwired devices over any form of wireless system.