Naturally, the question frequently arises of whether it is really necessary to have a fire alarm when there is a fire sprinkler system in place.
The answer, as is often the case, is “it depends.”
Ultimately, the NFPA, your local AHJ, as well as your insurance company will determine whether or not you are required to have both. There are some instances where having an adequate fire sprinkler system may free you from an obligation to install and maintain a fire alarm.
However, perhaps the better question that you should be asking is, even if you are not required to have an alarm system, should you?
When weighing this question, it is vital that you understand the difference between a fire alarm and a fire sprinkler. The two are not the same and they perform vastly different functions.
- Fire alarms are essentially your early warning system. When the detection devices linked with the alarm system (such as smoke detectors), detect smoke or fire-related elements, or when someone pulls a manual fire alarm pull station, the alarm sets off visual and audible warnings to the entire building. They alert everyone in the building that there is danger and that they need to get out.
They do not protect the building or property in anyway, they simply alert everyone inside of the presence of a hazard and the need to evacuate. Their primary purpose is to protect the people. These systems can also be monitored to communicate with local fire departments for faster response times.
- Fire sprinklers, on the other hand, only activate one sprinkler at a time when temperatures reach fire levels. In other words, only the sprinkler that is located by the fire itself will activate and only once the temperatures are high enough to activate it. The purpose of sprinklers is to prevent flames from spreading and to protect the property, not the people.
Furthermore, the detection devices on many alarm systems are more sensitive and trigger earlier than the activation devices on sprinklers.
Fire Alarms Are Important Because…
While many reason that a fire sprinkler will knock out a fire before it causes harm to those inside a structure, and that people can always see or smell evidence of danger in time to get out, these assumptions are not necessarily true.
Fire alarm systems remain important because they:
- Notify people early to get out: as mentioned above, the detection devices connected to fire alarms are typically more sensitive than sprinkler systems. This means that an alarm can sound early, maybe even when there are just smoldering materials, before it gets out of control and potentially blocks routes of escape.
A fire sprinkler requires higher temperatures to activate, meaning the fire will have already gained strength before sprinklers start working to suppress it, risking some damages and threat to health and exit routes.
- Notify everyone: fire alarms also ensure that everyone in the building is aware of the risk, whether or not they can smell or see the evidence of it. They also notify local authorities.
Most sprinkler systems, on the other hand, only activate in the exact location where the flames and heat are located. While those who are present in the immediate area will obviously take note, there may be those in the building who remain unaware of the situation.
If there is no fire alarm in place, it is possible that some in the building may not become aware at all until their route of escape is blocked. While the sprinkler system may prevent the flames from spreading to those individuals, they could still have to endure smoke and being stuck in the building until the whole ordeal is over.
Options Are Plentiful
Ultimately, whether you are required to have both fire sprinkler and fire alarm systems or not, you ought to seriously weigh the ramifications of not maintaining an alarm system in your specific property.
There are such a wide variety of systems available, including ones that implement both an alarm and sprinkler system together, and a host of alarm types, that you can find a system that both suits your unique property and is cost effective.
If you are unsure whether or not you are required to provide both fire alarms and fire sprinklers, or if you are interested in learning more about the best fire alarm options for your property, call the experts at Koorsen. They have been in the fire protection business since the 1940’s and stay ahead of the curve with regards to the latest technologies and options.
Give Koorsen a call today and secure the safety of your property and those inside.