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By: Philip Hamer, Sat Feb 13th, 2010
Commercial fire alarm systems can range from very simple analogue loop equipment up to complex addressable systems. The heart of a good fire alarm is the control panel. Every device on the system connects back to the fire alarm panel on a common wire often known as the loop. A fire alarm engineer generally installs the equipment and carefully terminates each wire to the various call points, sirens and smoke detectors around the building. The fire alarm can even be made to close doors, turn off pieces of equipment and automatically extinguish fires! A fire alarm can save lives by letting people know when a fire has broken out.
In order to make sure that the fire alarm continues to work, regular fire alarm maintenance should be carried out. Each week the control panel should be checked. There will be indicators on the panel to show when faults have occurred, or batteries have begun to fail.
We would test our fire alarm every Monday morning. A colleague would stand by the fire alarm panel whilst I carried out the fire alarm testing. I had a special key which I could use on a call point. The glass would drop when I inserted the key and the fire alarm would activate. Each week we would choose a separate call point and record the test in a book. After testing all the call points we started back on the first. As I worked my way around the building I also listened for the sirens to make sure that they worked. Every four months an engineer would come and test the system fully. They even tested the batteries in the control panel with a very expensive looking battery tester.
I also had to test the emergency lighting in my last job. It was not tested for many years; we think that it was forgotten about. The health and safety inspector was not best pleased when we had no log book or emergency lighting test certificate. We purchased a special key which fitted into switches on the same plate as the office lights. When the secret key operated the emergency lighting came on. I had to test the lights for three hours once a year and then monthly for one hour. To be honest, about 25% of the units would fail.
As I was a qualified electrician I would purchase spare batteries from our electrical wholesaler and replace them in the faulty units. The replacement fluorescent lamps were very cheap so at the same time I replaced those also. My boss was pleased I could carry out the emergency lighting maintenance as he thought the batteries looked expensive.
I carried on emergency lighting testing for years and trained a few more colleagues on how to carry out the tests as well. Every year we needed an emergency lighting certificate for which we used an external contractor.
I was surprised one day to see my old friend from school, Barry. He worked for a local contractor and came to do the testing. After a good old chin wag he told me all about how he did fire alarm maintenance as well as the emergency lighting. My boss found out I spent the afternoon talking to Barry and was not best pleased, although when I told him my mate Barry had passed the installation with flying colours I saw a hint of pleasure in his eye.
I met Barry in the pub later that evening and he told me about the new smoke fire alarm he had installed at a local church. It sounded very complicated and well beyond my capabilities.
I now work for Magma Energy Services Ltd, who offer a complete range of emergency lighting and fire alarm services.