How Often Should a Company Test Its Fire Alarms?

Fire alarm systems must be regularly inspected and tested to comply with regulations. The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) sets codes and standards that must be followed to ensure the safety of life and property in the event of a fire.

High-rise commercial properties present unique challenges, as electrical systems and fire alarm systems are more difficult to manage because of a large number of people, delayed accessibility for first responders, greater risk of smoke spread and increased exit times.

It is important to address the relationship between fire alarm systems, their testing and fire service control panels (FSCP). Understanding how your fire and smoke mitigation systems are designed can help ensure maximum safety for the building’s occupants while minimizing potential damage to the structure.

Types of Fire Alarm Systems

Fire alarm systems, despite their seeming simplicity, are complicated networks of numerous connected devices and parts that all work together to detect, notify and help suppress the spread of fire. There are two types of fire alarm systems, and both are incorporated in high-rise commercial buildings: manual and automatic.

Manual Initiating Devices

Most commercial structures, including retail outlets, event centers, sports stadiums and offices, include manual initiating devices. State and local laws require manual pull-down stations. NFPA 72, the fire alarm code of practice, specifies where the devices must be placed in the structure. To provide maximum accessibility, the devices must be set between 1.5 and 5.5 feet above the finished floor.

Once initiated, manual systems will sound an alarm and usually notify the local fire department of the emergency. They may be connected to an FSCP that can help identify the specific location the alarm was activated in.

Automatic Initiating Devices

Automatic devices include smoke detectors, fire sprinklers and heat detectors, and they are automatically set off when a fire or smoke is detected. Automatic devices are further divided into two categories: spot and linear.

Spot devices work in one area, such as a home alarm. Linear devices cover a large area and can send a signal back to a fire control service panel to activate resources such as sprinkler systems, evacuation fans and smoke and fire curtains.

What is Involved in Testing a System?

NFPA 72 has specific testing requirements related to the size and occupancy of the building. Depending upon the system, inspections are required daily, quarterly, semi-annually and annually. Here are some of the items tested:

  1. Each device (manual or automatic) is individually activated to ensure proper operation. If the alarm system is connected to sprinklers or curtains, these are also tested.
  2. All horns, speakers and strobe lights are examined for proper operation.
  3. All backup power sources are checked.
  4. Finally, the whole system is activated to ensure that the individual components perform together as designed.

Active vs. Passive Fire Control Systems

Passive fire protection is used to prevent a fire from spreading or starting in the first place. These measures are usually designed into the building. They include using fire-resistant materials and breaking the floors into compartments to prohibit the flow of smoke from one section to another.

Active fire protection measures would involve sprinkler systems, fire-rated curtain systems, automated fire doors and smoke evacuation fans, as a few examples.

Smart Buildings and Active Fire Control Systems

Smart buildings are the future of commercial construction. A smart structure utilizes technology to allow the efficient and cost-effective use of resources while also providing a safe and pleasant living environment for its users. The centerpiece of the most advanced active fire control systems is a fire service control panel (FSCP).

Advantages of a Fire Control Service Panel (FCSP)

Safety Measures

As a safety component of a smart building, a fire service control panel allows first responders to activate fire protection measures individually. This can be on a specific floor or on a group of floors to isolate the fire to a particular section of the building. By utilizing this capability, the fire can be fought in a manner that allows residents to evacuate safely while giving the responders the access to extinguish the blaze.

Smoke containment curtains, such as Smoke Guard’s M600 Elevator Curtain, can be activated from an FSCP in order to keep smoke from passing through the open elevator passages, giving residents more time to escape.

Sprinkler systems can be controlled by zones to prevent soaking the entire building, as this can result in unnecessary property damage. Smoke evacuation fans can be monitored to keep them from activating until all residents have left the building.

Testing Flexibility

A fire service control panel provides an advantage to those performing equipment testing because the entire system does not have to be activated simultaneously. In a high-rise building, it would be cost-prohibitive to have personnel on every floor to monitor the effectiveness of each piece of safety equipment simultaneously.

The FSCP allows floor-by-floor testing of the equipment. In addition, alarm lights on the panel point technicians to components of the system already in a failed condition, ensuring that repairs can happen quickly.

Smoke and Fire Mitigation Custom Solutions From Smoke Guard


Protecting a high-rise commercial building from smoke and fire requires the input of experienced experts. Our company has been offering smoke and fire protection to architects and designers since 1991.

We have solutions to cover almost any opening in your building, and most of these can work with FSCPs, providing your clients with control flexibility that extends from on-site operation to their laptop or cell phone. For more information, contact us today.