Your Reference for Fire Alarm Monitoring Diagnostic Messages, Trouble Codes, & Other Terms

By Andrew Erickson

May 7, 2023

Fire alarm systems are essential for the safety of lives and property. A properly functioning fire alarm system can save lives by providing early warning of fire. This allows people to evacuate the building. Firefighters get to respond quickly with prompt notification.

Fire alarm systems have associated trouble codes that inform technicians, engineers, and other system operators of the exact problem. Common fire alarm trouble codes include short circuit, ground fault, low battery voltage, device supervision failure, and power supply failure. Additionally, there may be trouble codes related to each individual device within your monitoring umbrella.

To maintain these systems in optimal working condition, it's crucial to understand the common diagnostic messages, trouble codes, and terminology. These may be related to fire alarm monitoring, fire alarm control panels (F A C P), and initiating devices - among other alarm equipment.

To help you interpret a particular code that you've received (which is probably how you ended up here), let's now delve into the details of common system components and their most common error codes...

Common Fire Panel (FACP) Trouble Codes

The fire alarm control panel (FACP) serves as the central hub for a fire alarm system within each of your building(s). It receives signals from initiating devices, processes the information, and activates notification appliances as needed. It also communicates with the monitoring center to relay the status of the system.

When first responders arrive at your building, a series of LED lights or a display screen are an up-to-the-second indication of the current fire status. The FACP will be outputting trouble codes associated with the current fire or technical situation, such as a low battery voltage or ground fault.

Here are some common trouble codes you're likely to see from your FACP:

  1. AC Power Failure: The FACP isn't receiving power from the main electrical source. This could be due to a power outage or a malfunctioning power supply. Since you're getting a message, that means the FACP is running on its backup battery.
  2. Battery Trouble: Indicates a problem with the backup battery, such as low voltage, battery failure, or battery disconnection. You're running on utility power, but this is a warning that you "have no spare tire".
  3. Ground Fault: A ground fault occurs when there is an unintended electrical connection between the fire alarm circuit and the ground. This can cause false alarms or other malfunctions. Your FACP is still operating, but this is something you should investigate and fix promptly.
  4. System Fault: This code indicates a general failure in the system, such as a communication error or a malfunctioning component. You should check your manufacturer documentation to learn how to get more detailed problem reporting. Generic codes like this one are a "catch all" to cover a range of circumstances.

Common Initiating Device Trouble Codes

Initiating devices are components that detect fire or smoke and send a signal to the FACP. There are several types of initiating devices, including smoke detectors, heat detectors, and manual pull stations.

What sorts of diagnostic messages are commonly received from initiating devices?

  1. Device Missing: This code indicates that an initiating device is no longer communicating with the FACP, possibly due to a disconnection, damage, or a communication error.
  2. Device Malfunction: Indicates that an initiating device is not functioning properly, such as a dirty smoke detector or a faulty heat detector.
  3. Device Supervisory: This code is triggered when an initiating device is in a maintenance or test mode and requires attention.

Common Notification Appliance Trouble Codes

Notification appliances are devices that alert building occupants of a fire, such as horns, strobes, and bells. They are activated by the FACP when a fire is detected.

Here are codes you're likely to see when you have a problem with a notification appliance:

  1. Circuit Trouble: Indicates a problem with the wiring or connections between the FACP and the notification appliances, such as a short circuit or an open circuit.
  2. Appliance Failure: This code is triggered when a notification appliance is not functioning correctly, such as a burned-out strobe light or a malfunctioning horn.

Common Monitoring Trouble Codes

Fire alarm monitoring involves a remote monitoring center receiving signals from the FACP, providing 24/7 monitoring of the system.

  1. Communication Failure: Indicates that the FACP is unable to communicate with the monitoring center, possibly due to a problem with the phone line or network connection.
  2. Off-Normal Condition: The monitoring center has detected an off-normal condition in the fire alarm system, such as a device that is not functioning properly or a power issue.
  3. False Alarm: This code is triggered when the monitoring center receives an alarm signal but no fire is confirmed.

Do I need to memorize all of these codes - and all of the others in my system?

You must understand the trouble codes mentioned above. These codes tell us when something is wrong with the fire alarm system, like there is an issue with the power or a device isn't working correctly.

This helps us figure out what needs to be fixed so that our fire alarm system works properly and keeps us safe from danger.

While it's great to have a reference like this article (that's why I wrote it for you), you really should have a strong working knowledge in your head. Every second counts during a system failure, so it's best if you can react instantly to the diagnostic messages you receive.

It's important to know about the different trouble codes and diagnostic messages that tell us when something is wrong with a fire alarm system. To do this, you need to study your manufacturer documentation so you can be familiar with what these codes mean.

Even if you know all of the codes, sometimes it's still necessary to check reference material for more information. That's expected and okay. The most important codes (major fire situation) are usually pretty easy to understand without prior training.

Digitize Engineering will help you with any trouble code or any alarm system

The trouble codes and terminology discussed in this article serve as a reference to help you get started in understanding fire alarm systems. With the hundreds of global manufacturers producing alarm equipment, this list is by no means exhaustive. There can and will be other codes or issues you may encounter with your fire alarm system.

At Digitize, we have an experienced engineering team available to assist you with any additional codes you may come across. We can also answer any broader questions you have about your fire alarm system or monitoring your incoming alarms.

Our team of experts can provide guidance on troubleshooting, system optimization, maintenance, and upgrades to ensure that your fire alarm system operates effectively and efficiently.

We understand the critical role that fire alarm systems play in protecting lives and property, and we are committed to helping you maintain the highest level of safety and performance for your system.

Call Digitize now

Call the Digitize engineering team for assistance or consultation on any fire alarm system-related questions or concerns. We are here to support you in maintaining a safe and reliable fire protection system for your facility.

Call 1-800-523-7232 or email to speak with an engineer today.

Let us help you keep your fire alarm system running smoothly.

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 17 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and...Read More