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What are the Basics of Fire Alarm Maintenance?

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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2016
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A fire alarm is a system of devices used to identify and alert an outside central location when smoke or fire is present and is generally used in large public buildings, such as schools or businesses, as well as apartment buildings and other tall structures. The system may detect fire or smoke by sending out a small beam of light to be reflected against a surface. If smoke comes near this type of alarm, it will prevent the beam of light from reflecting back to the detector and cause the device to sound. Another type of system may use a small chamber of radiation particles whose structure is altered when smoke comes into contact with it. Proper fire alarm maintenance can help ensure that both types of detectors work effectively to prevent injuries or deaths from fires.

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One of the main components of fire alarm maintenance is changing the batteries and checking the wiring regularly. Fire alarm systems are typically powered by large, high-voltage batteries, and connected to an outside control panel through an electrical wiring system. If the alarm sounds, the wiring system will trigger the control panel to automatically telephone the fire department or other public safety official department. Setting up a regular schedule of changing the batteries and checking the wiring can prevent the chances of the batteries or wiring system not working properly in case of a fire. Some fire alarm models may make small noises periodically as the batteries start to lose power or may send an electronic message to the control panel that warns of a weakening battery.

In order to ensure that an alarm system will be able to work in case of an emergency, it is generally recommended for fire alarm maintenance routines to include regular scheduled testing to make sure the device itself works, that the control panel dials the correct telephone number after an alarm sounds, and the alarm sounds are at the correct volume. Although the exact testing recommendation may vary depending on the manufacturer, most tend to recommend testing an alarm once each month. The testing is usually performed by pressing a testing button until it briefly sounds the alarm.

Even by following a fire alarm maintenance routine, the devices have a limited lifespan. It is usually recommended to replace fire alarm systems every 10 to 15 years, regardless of if they still appear to function properly. After an extended period of time, the sensors can become worn out and not as sensitive to smoke and heat and the wiring systems can become weakened.

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Animandel
Post 3

Does anyone out there remember the fire alarm testing and fire drills from school days. Well, I guess those are still standard, but I can remember how all of us students made fun of the drills and never really took them very seriously.

The best thing about the fire drills was that they interrupted class for a while. By the time we exited the building, lined up and then got back to the classroom, we had used 20 minutes of class time. Thankfully, we never had a real fire. Most of us would have panicked and started running all over the school trying to get to an exit if we had every smelled smoke.

Sporkasia
Post 2

@Drentel - You are right in that in-home smoke and fire detection is much better than it was 20 or 30 years ago. This is mostly because more people are conscious of the risks of a fire starting and because smoke detectors are reasonably priced. But there is more to fire safety than knowing that a fire has started.

The big mistake that people make in their homes, and that companies also make is that they don't make a plan for what they will do when the fire alarms and the smoke detectors sound.

Drentel
Post 1

It's a wonder that we didn't burn our house down when I was growing up. In the entire time I was kid I can't ever remember anyone coming out to clean the chimneys. There is no telling how much soot and creosote was layered up inside those old chimneys. And my father would have roaring fires in all of the fireplaces for most of the winter.

It's amazing how far smoke and fire detection has advanced over the last several decades or so. Most houses now have at least one smoke detector, and a good number of houses have several of them.

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