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Help & Advice

 

FIRE ALARM SYSTEMS

Here are some helpful hints and tips that you may find useful if your are responsible for the fire alarm in your building. If you want to know more about servicing and service agreements with CODRUS, click here to go to our extensive FAQs section (over 100 questions and growing every day).

 

Contents

Users of fire alarm systems are legally obliged to ensure that their system is kept working, tested and free from false alarms. Here are some tips that you will find helpful.

Routine Testing

A fire alarm should be tested once a week. Many people don't bother to do this, because they feel that bells ringing are too disruptive or they are too busy : but it is vitally important. Disruption can be kept to a minimum by carrying out the test at the same time, on the same day each week. With a little preparation, a test can be carried out swiftly and the disruption kept to an absolute minimum.

Weekly Test - Place your panel key in the activate controls keyswitch, turn the key in the keyswitch on the control panel to activate the controls. Have your logbook and callpoint test key ready. Go to a callpoint (breakglass) on the first zone and insert the test key. The bells will now ring. DO NOT PANIC. Take the test key out and return to the control panel. Note the displays shown on the control panel. Fire in the zone you activated should be shown. Power On should also be shown. No fault lights should be shown. Now (ensuring the controls are still active), press Alarm Silence. The bells will now stop, but the panel will still register an alarm and the internal sounder will still be running. Enter your findings in the logbook and press RESET. The system will now return to normal. Turn the activate controls keyswitch to normal and REMOVE the key.

If any fault lights came on during the test, or the system did not operate as it should, call a fire alarm engineer to fix your system NOW.

To request a CODRUS fire alarm engineer, click here.

Servicing your Fire Alarm

This is something that should only be attempted by a fire alarm specialist. Do not be tempted to use a general contractor, they will not have the specialist training, equipment or insurance required. Servicing should only be carried out once a contract is signed, to protect your insurance liability and to comply with the Fire Officer and Insurance company's requirements. Remember, you will be asked to produce the documentary evidence that the system is covered by a service contract, that regular visits have been done and that any repairs outstanding have been dealt with. Remember, people's lives are at risk : safety first. A fire alarm specialist will give you a service contract that not only gives you regular service visits, but also gives you access to a 24 hour callout number so you can get an engineer any time of the day or night (problems don't just happen 9 to 5, and you can't just turn a fire alarm off if it's making a funny noise: they are permanently powered up and wired direct into the mains).

Want to know more about CODRUS service agreements ?. Click Here.

False Alarms

False alarms are the most disruptive thing that can happen to a fire alarm user (short of a real fire). They are infuriating and many people feel that the system is malfunctioning, but this may not be the case. If you are experiencing false alarms, you should accept some truths about the situation now, so that you can better deal with the situation.

  • DON'T PANIC

  • DO call your fire alarm specialists the FIRST time you have a false alarm. Ask for a copy of their false alarm procedure, by fax. TODAY.

  • FOLLOW the procedure to the letter. Don't keep pressing buttons in the hope of "stopping the noise"

  • ACCEPT that it may take more than one engineer's visit to site to cure the cause of the false alarm

Possible causes of false alarms are diverse. False alarms can be caused by cooking, hoovering, building works, laying carpet, lack of servicing, storm (thrip) flies, interference from other electronic equipment, even welding in a nearby building. Whatever the cause, you should deal with the problem the same way : follow the false alarm procedure.

Your service provider should give you a copy of their version of the procedure when you first report a false alarm to them. If they don't have one (they don't have one ?) please feel free to use the CODRUS false alarm procedure below.

What to do in the event of a false alarm.

  • Always treat the alarm as if it is a real fire. Don't assume it's a false alarm. Follow your evacuation plan and only follow this guide if you have established that it is a false alarm.

  • If you have established that it is a false alarm, go to the control panel and activate the controls.

  • Press the Silence button. DO NOT PRESS RESET.

  • Make a note of the lights that are lit on the panel.

  • Call your Fire Alarm specialist and call an engineer to site urgently.

  • While you are waiting for the engineer, the panel will still be making a noise, even though the bells have stopped ringing. DO NOT be tempted to press any more buttons. If you reset the system before the engineer arrives he will have no way of identifying where the problem is, and you will still have to pay for his trip !!.

Want to know more about CODRUS service agreements ? Click here.

Why you need a Service Agreement

The main advantage of having a service agreement with a fire alarm specialist, is that you can call a qualified engineer to attend your system any time of the day or night. This is particularly important when you have a building that contains people who would be distressed if the bells rang continuously. In healthcare sites, nursing homes, mental healthcare sites and hotels, a constantly ringing fire alarm system can quickly become an intolerable situation. Having a "handyman" you can call on won't help you at 3 O'clock in the morning, when you need the system silenced straight away. With a service  agreement you are given an emergency number which puts you in contact with an "On Call" engineer out of hours and during weekends and holidays. Once contacted, the engineer will attend site as soon as possible to resolve your problem.

It is important to ensure that you know where the emergency number is kept. Your fire alarm specialist should provide you with the callout number when the contract is started, and update you whenever it changes (it should change every so often for security purposes). If you don't know your callout number, contact your provider immediately. Don't be surprised if they refuse to give you the number over the phone, but insist on sending you the information by post or fax instead. This again is a security measure to protect against releasing the number to people who don't have a contract. Avoid companies that give mobile numbers as emergency callout numbers.

We, like many fire alarm specialists, will not allow an engineer to work on your fire alarm system unless you have a service agreement with us. We are happy to provide you with a quote for a service agreement. Click here to learn more.

 

PORTABLE FIRE EXTINGUISHERS

Your fire extinguishers are key to protecting the escape routes in your building. It is important that you have the right type, the right size, in the right place and annually serviced by a competent person. How do you know if you have the right units in the right places ?. A competent person will tell you, but always get more than one quote.

When considering which company you are going to select to service your extinguishers, take care when getting a price. The annual price can appear very little, but consider all the costs. Some companies charge a set fee per extinguisher (or an attendance fee, then a set fee per extinguisher), but you must check what this includes. Some companies charge a low fee per extinguisher service (say 2.50), but then charge you for every seal, tag, pin, label, o-ring that they change, on top of that fee. Some companies charge a set fee per extinguisher, which includes all those consumable parts (often 4 to 5 per extinguisher), but this can often work out cheaper. Also check the price of replacement extinguishers : prices can vary hugely from company to company (a 9 ltr Water extinguisher can be 50 from one company, or 150 from another).

You should inspect them monthly to ensure they haven't been used or damaged. Your competent person will carry out an Annual Service, at five years an Extended Service / Discharge Test on waters, powders and foams and at 10 years carry out an Overhaul of CO2s.

With CO2s, you should know that it is often cheaper to replace the extinguisher than have it overhauled (you can end up paying for the overhaul which includes an overpressure test, which if it fails you have to pay for, then buy a new one anyway!). Always check the prices before authorising an overhaul.

With Waters, Foams and Powders at the Five Year extended service, the thing to watch out for is if your extinguisher has a plastic headcap (the assembly below the handle). British Standards now require plastic headcaps to be replaced at five years and this can result in a much larger bill than you expect. Again, check the price before authorising, because it can be cheaper to just buy a new extinguisher. Plastic headcaps can fail because UV light weakens the plastic and when an extinguisher is set off, the headcap can explode, injuring the user. For this reason (and the five year cost), always insist any new extinguisher has a metal headcap.

Another thing to watch out for are plastic pins. Some manufacturers have a plastic pin assembly that when pulled, breaks and cannot be reused. The problem is that every year, the annual service includes a check of the free operation of the mechanism, which means pulling the pin to check the mechanism beneath the handle. If you have a plastic pin, this means it has to be broken every year. Some companies will charge you for the replacement plastic pin, every year. If the extinguisher has a metal pin, however, this can be reused, so you don't have to pay for a new one every year. When you consider that some companies say they only charge 2.50 to service an extinguisher, they seem to forget to point out that they are also going to charge you upto 5 to replace the plastic pin : it soon adds up to a considerable cost. For this reason, always insist that any new extinguisher is fitted with a metal pin, not plastic.

You should only allow competent persons to service your extinguishers. How do you know if they are competent?. The engineer must have a certificate proving they have completed the appropriate training and passed the examination, and that it has been passed within the last three years (they are retaken every three years). This is the requirement under British Standard 5306. Remember, the company may have any number of badges, membership of associations or assorted schemes, but it is the qualification of the actual engineer that matters.

People often have extinguishers in their building, but don't have any staff trained how to use them. If you use the wrong extinguisher on the wrong type of fire, you could be injured or spread the fire further. Always include extinguisher use in induction training and refresher training at 3 years, and keep a log of who attended and when.

To protect yourself from liability it is always a good idea to have a written statement in your Health & Safety Policy or Fire Safety Policy to state that you provide extinguishers in your property, but it is your policy that only staff who have been trained should attempt to use them. While they are available for anyone to use in an emergency, this should only be attempted by someone with the appropriate training and therefore you cannot be held responsible if damage or injury occurs if an extinguisher is used inappropriately.

When should you use an extinguisher?. This depends on your training and Fire Risk Assessment. We often teach our customers that in the event of a fire, their priority is to evacuate the building, not fight fires. In that situation, the only time you would use an extinguisher is if a fire was blocking your escape route and you had no option. This advice may or may not apply to you, but you should always defer to what your training and Fire Risk Assessment require.