Today, we are going to run through a typical fire alarm inspection. Let’s cover from start to finish, what will happen when a fire protection company inspects your fire alarm system.

    1. Pre-Test
    2. Test Primary and Secondary Phone Lines
    3. Test Backup Battery
    4. Alarm Sound Testing
    5. Pull Manual Fire Alarms
    6. Test Heat Detectors
    7. Perform Sensitivity Test
    8. Check HVAC Shut-Off
    9. Document Everything

1. Pre-test

Before testing begins, a fire alarm technician, a city fire chief and a property manager all coordinate meeting together at the facility being tested.

The first event that happens is the fire chief will contact the dispatcher and tell them that a fire alarm test is being performed at XXX today. This is to assure that a reasonable (and code regulated) time allotted to relay the message from the alarm panel, to the monitoring company, to the dispatcher and then to the fire chief.

2. Test primary and secondary phone lines

Next, the primary and secondary phone lines will be tested. Once the fire alarm is activated, the fire alarm technician will set off the alarm using one phone line at a time.
The fire chief will document how long it takes from the time the alarm is activated, until the time the call is made to the monitoring station, to the dispatcher and back to the chief.

3. Test Battery Backup

Back to the fire alarm panel, there will be a separate section dedicated to the backup batteries that will provide power in case of a loss of power.

These batteries are tested to make sure they are capable of supplying necessary power.

Backup batteries are also testing in the notification appliance circuits to make sure all alerting signals and sounds are made, including the horns, strobes and detectors.

4. Alarm Sound Testing

After activating the alarm, the technician went to every floor, and checked if there was sound, but also to see if the horn strobes were lighting.

5. Pull the Manual Fire Alarms

NOTE: The next few sections require two fire alarm technicians

Now it’s time to pull the manual fire alarms and see what the fire alarm panel displays.

One technician goes around activating (pulling) the alarms, while the other is at the panel acknowledging that the fire panel received the request.

Once the alarm is activated (at this point, the sounds/signals are disabled because we don’t want to disturb the building workers), the technician will reset the panel, and then the other technician will move onto the next alarm.

6. Test Heat Detectors

Heat detectors were installed all around the building that need inspected. The issue with inspecting these (which are set to alert the alarm at approximately 155 degrees) is that these heat detectors are a one time use.

Heat Detector tested during an alarm inspection

These heat detectors have a glass shell that will break upon reaching a desired temperature. To go around inspecting these, without breaking the glass, we provide a short in the detector (simulating what will happen if the temperature got to 155F and the glass broke)

A short in the detector will send an alert to the fire alarm panel. The technician will note that the heat detector sends  an alert to the panel, reset the alarm, and then the other technician can move onto the next heat detector.

Fire alarm technician providing a short in a heat detector

7. Perform Sensitivity Test

The smoke detector sensitivity test is done to make sure the smoke detectors will work properly. If you look inside of a smoke detector you will notice a sensitivity range:

sensitivity range of a smoke detector

This alarm has smoke/air concentration rate of 2.5%, with a sensitivity range of +/- 1.
So, the smoke detector (if performing right), will work properly with a smoke concentration from 1.5-3.5%.

For this inspection, we used a smoke detector sensitivity machine to test different concentrations to make sure the detector alerts the alarm within the 1.5-3.5% range.

NOTE: There are more modern technologies for smoke detectors that will self-adjust after time to account for dust accumulation. There are newer fire alarm panels that will print out the sensitivity test for each smoke detector upon request. There are numerous advancements, but for this inspection, this is the only way we can make sure each smoke detector was working properly.

Once the smoke detector gives off the signal to the alarm, the other technician sitting near the alarm acknowledges the alert, then resets it while the other technician moves onto the next smoke detector until all have been tested.

For this inspection, we tested 35 different smoke detectors over 3 floors.

8. Check HVAC Shut Off

Another part of a fire alarm inspection is to make sure that when the fire alarm is activated, the HVAC system shuts off.

The reason?

If the HVAC system would continue to work, it would be pumping new air into the building, thus helping the fire to spread.

Fire alarm technician checking on a HVAC unit

9 . Document Everything

This is more of an internal thing, but it’s still part of the inspection. For every HVAC unit, fire alarm panel, heat detector, smoke detector, and manual pull station, there needs to be documentation.

There needs to be documentation for a few reasons:

  • The property manager knows what has been inspected
  • The fire protection company knows the locations of fire instruments for the next inspection
  • Invoicing can be accurate

Documentation takes time for the first go around, but after that, it will take way less time to do the inspection. It’s just nice to know that you haven’t missed anything if your checklist “checks out”.

ST location of smoke detectors

Having this list, while time-consuming to produce, will improve accuracy and efficiency for future inspections. For example, the next time we visit this facility, we know there are 35 smoke detectors over 3 floors, and we know the precise location of each one.

Hopefully this shows you everything that goes into a fire alarm inspection. Certainly, there are some variables (different fire alarm system panel, high-tech smoke detectors, etc.), but hopefully this will give you a general idea of what goes on.