What Alarm Contractors Need to Know When it Comes to Fire Alarm Resets

Alarm expert Jeffrey D. Zwirn lists off critical questions alarm companies should ask themselves when it comes to designing, installing fire alarm systems and their reset functions.

When a fire alarm system activates, at some point it must be reset. Many authorities require that the fire alarm system not be reset until such time as the fire department arrives on site, especially for conventional fire alarm systems. The reasoning for this is so the fire department can attempt to determine which specific detector initiated the alarm. To that end, first responders are commonly found looking up at each of the detectors to determine which one is illuminated, as the system does not have the technical capability to be able to pinpoint and identify which specific detector was the cause of the activation.

With this in mind, when designing, specifying, applying, installing, servicing and maintaining fire alarm systems, alarm contractors need to always take the following information into consideration when it comes to “Fire Reset.”

Is it acceptable to utilize a mechanical toggle switch for fire reset on a residential fire alarm system? Is it acceptable to utilize a normally closed mechanical momentary push button switch for fire reset on a residential fire alarm system? What if the reset switch was not installed by your company? What if the control panel manufacturer does not adopt this system design and setup? Does your company have a duty to address this vulnerability? Does your company have written codification from the equipment manufacturer to support this reset methodology? What, if any, other standards have you reviewed to support this application for fire reset? Can you think of any potential dangers to the customer when utilizing this particular type of fire reset configuration?

The most prudent course of action is to only design and install fire alarm systems that require the subscriber to reset the fire alarm activation directly from the control panel set, or from one of its systems keypads.

To reset a fire alarm system which has been active, many contractors across the country elect to install either toggle switches, or normally closed momentary buttons in series with the power to these life safety devices, which as designed, once depressed or switched by the customer to the alternate position, will temporarily remove power to the automatic initiating device(s). This configuration was designed to reset the smoke detector(s) back to their normal state of functionality. And as long as the switch is tuned back to an active or closed state, allowing power to flow the system, it “should” detect a subsequent alarm condition. Additionally, this configuration also assumes that the switch is fully functional, and that there are no other deficiencies within the switch itself that could impede proper system functionality.

Any type of reset switch must first be listed for its intended purpose in connection with the control panel set and this function. Furthermore, it must be configured so that the switch cannot be inadvertently left “off,” leaving the fire alarm system completely non-functional.

Other troubling issues include a switch which is installed on the fire detection loop, of which is not supervised at all. In other words, the installer has not employed a power supervision relay on the loop, so that if the switch is accidentally left off, no trouble condition would annunciate for appropriate corrective action to restore fire alarm system functionality.

Similarly, no four-wire fire protection loop should ever be installed without this supervisory, end-of-line power supervision relay module, despite the inherent limitations and high failure potential of any mechanical reset switch(es) interfaced with the alarm system, since all fire alarm initiating devices shall be supervised in accordance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and industry standards.

A fire alarm is only helpful if it’s functioning properly.

The most prudent course of action is to only design and install fire alarm systems that require the subscriber to reset the fire alarm activation directly from the control panel set, or from one of its systems keypads.

Conversely, with a mechanical based alternative, you as the contractor need to recognize the criticality of your action and inactions.

If the switch you elect to install on one of the power legs of the fire alarm protection loop becomes defective in that its internal contractors builds up high resistance, the consequences can be deadly. The necessary power to operate the smoke detector(s) will become impeded, resulting in a smoke detector(s) that might appear to function through its on-board light emitting diode (LED’s), but in actuality the smoke detector itself is not getting the mission critical voltage needed to electronically detect the visible and invisible particles of combustion in the incipient stages of a fire.

In addition, the degraded output voltage, even with a power supervision relay properly employed, may also still remain “energized” in a non-alarmed state, bused on the minimal output voltage which is trickling through the defective reset switch further amplifying the dangerous loss potential to the homeowners, their family and property.

Intermittent continuity on the loop through a defective high resistance “fire reset” switch will dramatically decrease system reliability as continuous voltage will not be present at the automatic initiating detection devices when needed in an emergency.

Bio: Jeffrey D. Zwirn, CPP, CFPS, CFE, FACFEI, CHS-IV, SET, CCI, MBAT, is president of Tenafly, N.J.-based IDS Research and Development, Inc., which provides expert forensic, consultation and training services across the country. He has over 40 years of specialized expertise in security and alarm systems, and is an active 18-year designated expert instructor to the New York City Police Department [NYPD].

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