Fire Alarm Supervision
A key element to the effectiveness of fire alarm systems is the monitoring of the systems which includes how alarms are ultimately relayed to the emergency forces who will need to respond to the incident. Here we will look at the different supervising arrangements which are allowed and the differences between them.
What is a Fire Alarm Supervision?
Before we get too far into this, let’s define what a supervising station is. It’s a facility that receives signals from alarm systems and is staffed at all times with personnel that can respond to the signals. This sounds straightforward enough, but as we’ll detail here these can be in the same building that the fire alarm system protects or they can be remote from that location. They can be operated by the same owner as the protected building, operated by a separate entity, or be managed from a public communications center.
Requirements for providing supervising stations will typically be found in model building or life safety codes. Here we will look at the requirements from NFPA 101® Life Safety Code® but it is worth noting that these requirements tend to align well with building codes too.
In NFPA 101, the general requirements for emergency forces notification are based on the need to be able to transmit signals automatically in a way that will ultimately alert the municipal fire department and fire brigade (if provided).
The following are listed as acceptable means for accomplishing this:
- Auxiliary fire alarm system
- Central station fire alarm system
- Proprietary supervising station fire alarm system
- Remote supervising station fire alarm system
Emergency Forces Notification Arrangements Defined
Although the allowed means of emergency forces notification are specified in NFPA 101, the requirements for supervising stations are found in NFPA 72® National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®. Since each of the means of system supervision are intended to accomplish the same thing, the differences between them can often confuse users. In general, the differences can be defined as follows:
- Auxiliary fire alarm system: This is where a system is connected to a municipal fire alarm system for transmitting signals to a public fire service communications center. Fire alarms from an auxiliary alarm system are received at the public fire service communications center on the same equipment and by the same methods as alarms transmitted manually from municipal fire alarm boxes located on streets. While this arrangement was once more common, many municipalities have moved away from this service.
- Proprietary supervising station fire alarm system: This is a supervising station under the same ownership as the protected building that it supervises. These can be useful to owners who have very large buildings or a campus or for owners who have numerous buildings in many locations and who are able to dedicate the space and staffing levels to accomplish this. Proprietary supervising stations can be located on the same premises as the fire alarm system or at another location; these are most often used by large airports, industrial plants, college campuses, large hospitals, and retail chains, among other facilities. An example of this is a big box store that has a dedicated location that monitors all of its store locations. Additional fire alarm services including equipment installation, inspection, testing, and maintenance are the responsibility of the owner and can be accomplished in-house or be contracted out.
- Central station fire alarm system: This is a remote supervising station that is listed for central station service to ANSI/UL 827 and in addition to monitoring provides several other services including record keeping and reporting, testing services, and runner service. This can either be required by code or some insurance companies for certain occupancies. This option can also be chosen by a building owner who wants to have a single contract with a provider who supplies monitoring as well as inspection, testing, and maintenance and other services required of central stations.
- Remote supervising station fire alarm system: This is a constantly attended location that receives signals from various protected premises typically owned by different parties. Unlike central station fire alarm systems, contracts for this service are typically limited to the monitoring and recording of signals from the fire alarm system. Additional services including equipment installation, inspection, testing, and maintenance are the responsibility of the owner. This is an option for owners who are not required or do not want to provide central service and for whom a proprietary supervising station does not make sense.
The common thread with all of these is that signals will be received at a constantly attended location by qualified operators who know how to properly respond when signals activate. Specific details for supervising stations can be found in NFPA 72.