Fire safety systems are essential to ensure the well being of residents in homes and office buildings. Whether you’re a homeowner, landlord, or a business owner, you should be familiar with the fire alarm system on your property and how it works. Let’s take a closer look at fire alarms and learn how they function.

What are fire alarms?

Everyone is familiar with the red fire alarm pull stations that are located inside buildings. These devices can be activated manually, and are used to alert the building’s occupants about fires.

However, these pull stations are only one component within a larger fire alarm system.

Most fire alarm systems consist of a chain of multiple devices that detect fires, and alert the building’s occupants using alarms and/or flashing lights. Your typical fire alarm system includes:

  • Fire alarm panel
  • Fire detectors
  • Call points
  • Alarms and flashing lights
  • Power supply

Fire alarm panel

The fire alarm panel functions as the main control hub that communicates with the other components of the alarm system. It receives communications from the fire detectors located throughout the building and notifies residents and fire departments accordingly.

Fire detectors

Fire detectors are sensors that look out for heat, smoke, and/or carbon monoxide. As per the building code of Australia, homes are required to have at least one fire detector per floor, and one in each space between bedrooms.

Call points

Call points are the manual pull-down alert systems that are commonly found inside commercial buildings. These devices are rarely used in homes, but they can be spotted in apartment stairwells and hallways. They are used to manually alert occupants about fires in the vicinity.


Building fire alarm systems usually possess beeping alarms and flashing lights that alert occupants about fires in the building.

Power supply

Most fire alarm systems are powered by the building’s electrical power supply. If a power outage occurs, this system automatically switches over to using pre-installed batteries. This ensures that the fire alarm system continues to function even when the fire has damaged the building’s electrical system.

How does a fire alarm system work?

All fire alarm systems function similarly whenever a fire breaks out. The fire sensor first detects the heat or smoke from the fire and communicates this information to the fire alarm panel. This panel then activates audible alarms and/or flashing lights to alert building occupants about the fire.

Some sensors even send an alert to the fire department if they continue detecting heat or smoke for an extended period of time. Advanced fire alarm systems can detect which room the fire has occurred in and notify occupants accordingly.

If your building has been fitted with a fire sprinkler system, it will be activated by the fire alarm panel when a fire breaks out. These sprinkler systems are the occupants’ first line of defence against fires. However, fire extinguishers may also be used to contain smaller fires on the premises.

Fire alarm system maintenance

In accordance with Australian Standards 1851 section 6, all fire alarm systems need to be inspected on a monthly basis. All functioning equipment is checked during these inspections, and the system’s connection to the fire department is re-checked.

Fire alarm systems also need to be tested on an annual and a 5 year basis. A record of all these inspections and tests needs to be maintained in a logbook that is accessible.

Annual tests include the aforementioned inspections, but they also include testing the fire alarm panel during shutdowns, and testing 20% of heat detectors, 50% of smoke detectors, and all the manual pull-down alert systems in the building.

The 5 year test usually involves checking the alarm system’s wiring and measuring the impedance of the alarm system and power supply.

Benefits of having a good fire alarm system

A good fire alarm system alerts residents as soon as it detects a fire. This ensures that occupants have enough time to get to safety. However, fire alarm systems also offer many other benefits.

Avoiding panic

Many commercial buildings have advanced fire alarm systems that notify building authorities when a fire breaks out in a particular area. This gives building staff time to identify the location of the fire and alert occupants accordingly.

If a more basic fire alarm were used in this situation, it may activate a general alarm across the building. The sound of this alarm could cause occupants to panic and rush to evacuate the building, which could cause more harm than good. This is why advanced fire alarm systems are used in places like hospitals and airports.

Notifying the fire department

Some fire alarm systems automatically notify the fire department when a fire has been detected in the building. This is much faster than other systems where building authorities have to contact fire personnel themselves whenever a fire is detected.

This automatic notification system enables firefighters to reach your building before the fire gets out of hand and causes widespread destruction.

These systems are also useful for alerting the fire department about fires when you are away from your home. Many residential fires start due to electrical faults when residents are away. These fires can spread quickly and engulf your home within a matter of minutes if firefighting personnel are not present.

Containing fires

If your fire alarm system is fitted with a fire sprinkler system, small fires in your building can be contained and extinguished before they get out of hand. These systems may not be suitable for all buildings and homes, but they are relatively effective at containing fires before fire fighters get to the scene.

As you can see, there are many benefits to using good fire alarm systems in your home and office. However, these systems need to be maintained regularly to ensure they are in working order during an actual emergency.

You should make sure your fire alarm system is up-to-date with inspections and tests, as it could save your property and residents from extensive fire damage in the future.