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Fire Alarm Monitoring Verification Still Happens, and It’s a Problem

ULC fire alarm monitoring time 30 secondsThe verification of fire alarm signals from fire alarm monitoring systems is widely thought to be a thing of the past, something that no longer happens in the fire alarm monitoring industry any more. Indeed, CAN/ULC-S561 is listed in the National Building Code and National Fire Codes, and other provincial Codes, such as Ontario’s Building Code:

3.2.4.8. Signals to Fire Department

(1) If a fire alarm system is required to be installed and a single stage system is provided, the system shall be designed to notify the fire department in conformance with Sentence (4) that an alarm signal has been initiated in,

(a) a Group A occupancy having an occupant load more than 300,

(b) a Group B occupancy,

(c) a Group F, Division 1 occupancy,

(d) a building regulated by the provisions of Subsection 3.2.6.,

(e) a building containing interconnected floor space required to conform to Articles 3.2.8.3. to 3.2.8.11., or

(f) a retirement home regulated under the Retirement Homes Act, 2010 that is a Group C occupancy.

(2) A fire alarm system that includes waterflow indicating devices shall be designed to notify the fire department, in conformance with Sentence (4), that an alarm has been initiated.

(3) If a fire alarm system is required to be installed and a two stage system is provided, the system shall be designed to notify the fire department, in conformance with Sentence (4), that an alert signal has been initiated.

(4) Notification of the fire department required by Sentences (1) to (3) shall be by way of,

(a) signals to a central station conforming to CAN/ULC-S561, “Installation and Services for Fire Signal Receiving Centres and Systems”, or

(b) the municipal fire alarm system.

 

Why is this important?  Well, the CAN/ULC-S561 standard for fire alarm monitoring states the following:

 

10.4.3.1.1 Alarm signals, received by the fire signal receiving centre from the fire alarm control unit or the

extinguishing system at the protected premises shall be treated as fire alarms and the fire signal receiving

centre shall:

A –  Contact the appropriate public fire service communication centre within a maximum of 30 s of

the receipt of the signal. Unless authorized in writing by the authority having jurisdiction there

shall be no premises verification of the fire alarm signal;

 

No premise verification.  The standard for fire alarm monitoring in Canada – ULC-S561 – states that alarm signals shall be reported to the fire department without verification, within 30 seconds.  Yet, we still see stories such as this one, a prison fire reported in BC:

“B.C. Corrections initially said the fire alarm alerted the fire department, which had no record of any such call.

Instead, it was the monitoring company that was alerted by the fire alarm, Cindy Rose, of corrections, said Thursday.

That company contacted prison staff, which told it that the mattress had been removed and there was no need for the fire department.”

 So what’s the big deal?  What’s the problem with verification of fire alarm signals prior to dispatching the fire department?

The big deal is that the verification of a fire alarm signal from a fire alarm monitoring system can delay the dispatching of fire trucks and fire fighters to the scene of a potential fire.  As we know, fire doubles in size every minute after the first four minutes:

Fire Monitoring Growth Chart

 

This exponential growth can lead to significant increases in property loss, and increases the potential for injury and loss of life due to fire – both in terms of the people who may be in the building, and in terms of the fire fighters who are coming to assist.  A fast fire alarm monitoring response allows the fire department to mitigate the fire faster, reducing this potential for property loss and injury & loss of life.  Any delay – no matter how small can have a significant impact on the ability of the fire department to handle a fire before it gets out of control.

So how can you ensure you’re receiving the fastest possible response?  Here are three ways you can ensure you’re covered:

  • The first way is to review the procedures you are using with your fire alarm monitoring company. Ensure that the company is sending the fire trucks on fire alarm signals without verification
  • Ensure you have a ULC Certificate stating complianive with CAN/ULC-S561 fire alarm monitoring issued to the site. We’ve covered the importance of the ULC Certificate before, however this ensures that the entire monitoring process adheres to the standard that we have mentioned in this post.
  • Where available, use OPEN ACCESS™ fire alarm monitoring. This ensures the fastest  possible response to fire, and ensures that no verification is taking place, as signals are retransmitted directly to the correct fire department without fire alarm monitoring company intervention. We’ve provided more information on this service here.

Verifying fire alarm monitoring signals is something that life safety bodies throughout Canada have agreed should not happen, and this is reflected in the reference to ULC-S561 in Codes and Standards throughout the country.  However, as we’ve seen it’s a process which still happens today, as recently as the beginning of February of this year!  While fire alarm monitoring verification may save you some money in terms of the occasional false alarm fee, the potential for disaster as a result of this procedure is too high.  Ensure the fire alarm monitoring at your site does not include fire alarm verification, and request a ULC certificate from your fire alarm monitoring company.  It could save you, the building you look after and the people inside of it.

Contact Us to discuss this further.

 

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