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Types of Fire Alarm Systems: Which Commercial Fire Alarms Are Right for Your Business?

Types of Fire Alarm Systems: Which Commercial Fire Alarms Are Right for Your Business?
Types of Fire Alarm Systems: Which Commercial Fire Alarms Are Right for Your Business?

Fire alarm systems protect against the risk of a fire breaking out, causing extensive damage or impacting the safety of personnel and visitors. However, there are multiple types of fire alarm systems incorporating different technologies, sensors, detection methods and alarm signalling features. 

The type of alarm you need to protect your business will very much depend on your unique risk profile and circumstances. In this guide, Clearway’s fire safety consultants run through the most common types of fire alarm systems for commercial premises and explain which may be the most suitable option for your organisation.


The three ‘types’ of fire alarm systems: Analogue, Addressable and Conventional Fire Alarm Systems

These three categories of fire alarm systems are those found in most UK businesses. We’ll clarify how each system works shortly, but every company of any size should seek advice from a BAFE SP203-2-approved installer before making any decisions. Clearway is a BAFE approved installer so get in touch with us today.

Choosing an appropriate fire alarm system can make a significant difference to the way you monitor alarm signals, track signs of developing risk, and conform with your responsibilities to provide a safe, protected work environment.

As a fire alarm installer accredited to ISO 9001:2015, our role is to offer independent recommendations based on a thorough site risk assessment and an evaluation of the prevalent risks you most need to mitigate.

Types of fire alarms explained

Conventional Fire Alarm Systems for Businesses

Businesses may use conventional fire alarm systems where their premise is reasonably small, they have a low fire risk, or where they need the most cost-effective fire protection available within a limited budget.

Conventional fire alarm systems are standalone installations and comprise wired devices fitted in strategic places around the building, with sensors, detectors and call points, each covering a defined zone.

All system components are wired to the fire control panel, which uses lights to alert responders when a call point is activated and show the relevant zone.

Conventional fire alarms are gradually being replaced by Open Protocol, Closed Protocol and Managed Protocol Fire Alarm Systems as the technology improves.

fire alarm conventional

Analogue Commercial Fire Alarms

Analogue alarm systems use one single cable that connects all of the components within the fire alarm system. When a signal is transmitted, indicating fire, smoke, heat or manual activation of a call point, this feeds back information to the control panel about which detector the signal has come from – rather than indicating a zone, which could contain multiple call points or devices.

The difference between a conventional and an analogue fire alarm system is that the latter uses one continuous cable, whereas conventional systems have separate wiring connecting each device or component to the control panel.

Installing an analogue commercial fire alarm system provides businesses with the flexibility to configure the system to meet their specific requirements, such as setting parameters and thresholds against which alarms will be sounded.

While more advanced than a conventional fire alarm system, analogue alarms are normally more suited to medium-sized premises or businesses that need a way to determine exactly where a fault or potential fire has occurred – this enables responders to react quickly.

Addressable Fire Alarm Systems Explained

Addressable fire alarm systems are ideal for more complicated sites with larger buildings, multiple structures or zones – such as a hospital, retail centre, multi-storey building, commercial compound, sports complex, school or university.

These systems are networked, with detectors and sensors installed throughout the building or site, connected to a control panel. Each device or component has a unique address, which means that the control panel will, like an analogue alarm system, indicate exactly where the fire, ignition or heat signature has been detected.

Businesses can programme addressable fire alarm systems to meet their requirements, such as automatically sounding an evacuation signal in the area close to the alarm, without necessarily instructing all site users to evacuate other buildings that have not been affected.

fire alarm Maintenance services

Types of fire detection

As well as the distinction above, there are multiple ways in which a fire can be detected. In the UK, the following classifications are commonly used:

  • Ionisation Smoke Alarms: Utilising a small quantity of radioactive material, ionisation smoke alarms function by ionising the air between two electrically charged plates. When smoke infiltrates the chamber, it disturbs the flow of ions, prompting the alarm to sound.
  • Photoelectric Smoke Alarms: Employing a light source and a photoelectric sensor, these alarms activate when smoke particles enter the chamber, scattering light onto the sensor and triggering the alarm.
  • Heat Detectors: Instead of detecting smoke, heat detectors activate upon sensing a significant increase in temperature. They are particularly suitable for areas where smoke detectors may not be appropriate, such as kitchens or garages.
  • Combination Alarms: These alarms integrate both ionisation and photoelectric sensors to detect both fast-flaming fires and slow-smouldering fires, offering comprehensive fire detection capabilities.
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarms: Crucial for detecting the presence of carbon monoxide gas, these detectors sound an alarm when this odourless and highly toxic gas is detected, alerting occupants to potential leaks from faulty heating systems or other sources of incomplete combustion.
  • Multi-Criteria Detectors: By combining various sensing technologies, such as smoke, heat, and CO detection, multi-criteria detectors provide more reliable and accurate fire detection while minimising false alarms.
  • Flame Detectors: Designed to detect the presence of flames, these detectors are particularly useful in areas where smoke detection may be insufficient, such as outdoor locations or areas with high dust levels.
  • Manual Pull Stations: Positioned throughout buildings, these devices enable individuals to manually activate the fire alarm system in the event of an emergency, providing a quick and direct means of raising the alarm.
  • Duct Smoke Detectors: Installed in HVAC ducts, duct smoke detectors monitor air for the presence of smoke, helping prevent the spread of smoke through a building’s ventilation system.
  • Wireless Commercial Fire Alarm Systems: Wireless fire alarm systems are an alternative solution and work similarly to analogue addressable alarms. The advantage is that these systems operate without any wiring or cabling and, therefore, are very fast to deploy and can be repositioned as required. Detectors, the control panel and sensors are linked together using radio frequency tech, which allows the components to be moved as a portable solution.

Remember that fire detection must comply with EN54. The EN54 standard is a series of European standards that cover various aspects of fire detection and fire alarm systems. Specifically, EN54-1 to EN54-33 outline requirements and testing methods for different components and aspects of fire detection and alarm systems. You can read more about EN54 here.

Smoke detector

Advanced Commercial Fire Alarms for Higher-Risk Businesses

There are some scenarios in which a business requires a more complex or bespoke fire alarm system, often because of the work processes, materials or equipment used on site. For example, a warehouse covering a huge area with flammable chemicals, gases or substances may need a smart fire detection approach, often using smoke imaging to provide the oversight necessary.

Clearway can provide further guidance about fire alarm systems for businesses with complicated requirements.

We install site-wide systems engineered to high specifications, public address controls for fast evacuations and full systems integration for large premises with multiple storeys that need to incorporate fire protection into an existing device network.

Choosing the Right Commercial Fire Alarm Systems for Your Organisation

As we’ve seen, fire alarm systems can be adapted to your priorities and risk profile and come in numerous formats and structures – it’s always worth analysing the potential fire risks within your premises to ensure you make an informed decision.

Determining the appropriate fire alarm system for your needs depends on various factors including the size and layout of the building, the potential fire hazards present, local regulations and codes, and the specific requirements of the occupants. Here are some general guidelines to help you choose the right fire alarm system:

  1. Risk Assessment: Conduct a thorough risk assessment of your premises to identify potential fire hazards, such as sources of ignition, flammable materials, and occupancy patterns.
  2. Legal Requirements: Familiarise yourself with local fire safety regulations and building codes to ensure compliance with legal requirements regarding fire alarm systems.
  3. Occupancy Type: Consider the type of occupancy and the number of occupants in the building. Different types of buildings have different fire safety requirements. For example, residential buildings may have different fire alarm needs compared to commercial or industrial buildings.
  4. Detection Needs: Assess the type of fire detection required based on the potential fire hazards present. For example, if your building contains a lot of combustible materials, you may need a system that can detect smouldering fires as well as fast-flaming fires.
  5. Environmental Factors: Consider environmental factors such as humidity, temperature fluctuations, and dust levels, which can affect the performance of fire alarm systems.
  6. Monitoring and Response: Determine whether you need fire alarm monitoring that alerts a monitoring centre in the event of an alarm, or if a local alarm system is sufficient.
  7. Integration with Other Systems: Consider whether you need a standalone fire alarm system or if it should be integrated with other building systems such as HVAC, access control, or security systems.
  8. Budget and Maintenance: Take into account your budget for purchasing and maintaining the fire alarm system. Consider factors such as installation costs, ongoing maintenance requirements, and the availability of service and support.
  9. Future Expansion: Plan for future expansion or changes to your building layout that may affect the fire alarm system requirements.

As we mentioned, Step one is the risk assessment process, something every UK business must address periodically to ensure they have identified, logged and taken action to minimise or eliminate fire safety hazards, particularly when the usage, visitor traffic or evacuation points within the building change.

For more information about any of the fire alarm systems discussed here, guidance about whether your current fire alarm setup remains appropriate, or to arrange a good time to walk through your business premises and evaluate the sufficiency of your fire detection measures, please get in touch.

Clearway provides a comprehensive range of services, from system design and commissioning to ongoing alarm monitoring and regular maintenance and servicing to keep your fire alarm systems functioning as expected in the event of an emergency.

Daniel Meeajane

Business Development Director, Clearway Fire and Security

Daniel Meeajane is a Business Development Director for Clearway Fire and Security.

Having been involved in some major projects and achieving successful results Daniel uses his knowledge and experience to leverage awareness in Fire Protection. To do this a deep understanding of the BS 5839 PT1 is required along with keeping updated on the latest technology.

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