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Fire Alarm Systems Can Now Report to Cellular Lines

The requirements for fire alarm signaling have been defined by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 72 National Fire Alarm Code. It defines the application, installation, location,performance, inspection, testing and maintenance of fire alarm systems, fire warning equipment and emergency warning equipment and their components, as well as the means for signal initiation, transmission, notification, annunciation and the levels of performance and reliability of the various types of fire alarm systems.

Until the 2010 revision to the NFPA 72, building owners needed to have at least one dedicated Plain Old Telephone System (POTS) line. And a second line was also required (either a non-dedicated phone line or cellular). Many companies have two dedicated POTS lines, costing up to $100 each per month.

A number of businesses have either switched or are planning to switch over to VoIP phone systems. Those businesses who have switched have usually had to keep two POTS phone lines in order to meet the monitoring requirements of their fire alarm systems. Some businesses may not have even noticed that their fire panel is no longer reporting to their central monitoring station, as they did not know most VoIP systems won’t work with their fire alarm systems.

This revised code allows for cellular communicators to be the sole means of communications. Businesses are now able to save significant money each month. While there is an installation cost for the new equipment, it won’t take long for most businesses to realize these savings after paying for the equipment.

The original purpose of having two phone lines was to provide redundancy in case of a communications problem. But at the time the older code was approved, phone lines came in fromdifferent directions. Currently, both phone lines normally come in from the same phone trunk line, so in reality there is no real redundancy.

Current POTS lines also only check in once a day. The new cellular technology lets the monitoring center know within five minutes of any failure of the communications path. The signals are sent using a GSM communicator specifically designed or UL commercial fire installations. This provides better security for the fire alarm system monitoring.

The cellular communicator should be compatible with most fire panels as it uses contact ID format. Older fire alarm systems may require a panel upgrade, depending upon how the older panel communicates with the central monitoring station. Ask your fire alarm company about your fire alarm system and it’s compatibility with the new technology.

The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) or fire marshal should be made aware of the change of status if you decide to go with the new cellular. This should be done by whoever services your fire alarm. But as this is new technology, many fire marshals have not seen it before. Once they go through thespecification sheets and read the portion of the revised code, rarely is there a problem.

Many businesses are not aware that in addition to the NFPA 72 fire code, state law requires any business with a sprinkler system to be monitored. This is even for buildings that are not occupied.

State law also requires that fire alarm systems be inspected yearly. Fire alarm systems are really life safety systems. There are more things than buildings and equipment that are at risk from a fire. People’s lives can be in great danger, so it is imperative that a fire alarm system not only be monitored but inspected and maintained. The liability is too great not to do everything correctly.

Richard Kramer is the Security Products Account Manager at Mountain West Distributors


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