Basics of F A C P (Fire Alarm Control Panels)

By Andrew Erickson

March 11, 2023

Any Fire Alarm Control Panel (F A C P or, more commonly, "FACP" without spaces or just "fire panel" for short) is designed to monitor and control the various components of a fire alarm system.

Your fire panel acts as your building's central brain for fire alarm detection and reporting. For larger buildings, it's common to have one panel per section of the building.

An F A C P monitors alarms from smoke detectors, heat sensors, waterflow switches, manual pull stations and other related devices that are connected to its inputs. The F A C P then triggers an appropriate response based on the type of emergency detected.

When first responders arrive, F A C Ps can provide valuable information that helps them assess the situation and determine the best course of action.

F A C Ps also store records of each alarm event for later review, which is useful for investigating false alarms or looking into any issues with the fire alarm system.

Conventional vs. Addressable Fire Panels

F A C P's can be divided into two main types: conventional F A C P and addressable F A C P.

Conventional F A C P are designed to provide basic fire protection with a simple setup using minimal components. They have set zones of detection that activate when smoke, heat or water flow is detected in those specific areas.

Addressable F A C P are more complex systems that can be customized to the individual needs of a facility. These F A C P's can identify the exact location and type of emergency, enabling responders to respond quickly and appropriately.

3 Primary Components: Detection Devices, Control Panels, and Indicators

When designing and installing F A C P systems, it is important to understand their basic principles, components, and wiring. The F A C P and its surrounding components are divided into three primary sections: detection devices, control panels, and indicators/alarm devices.

Primary Components of an FACP system

It is important to understand the different components of an FACP: Detection Devices, Control Panels, and Indicators/Alarm Devices

  • Detection Devices - These are the devices that detect fires by sensing heat or smoke and alerting the F A C P when they do so. Common detection devices include fire detectors, smoke sensors, and heat sensors.
  • Control Panels - F A C P's are usually housed in a metal cabinet, or FACP box, which contains the F A C P's microprocessor-based controller and associated wiring. The F A C P's control panel is where all of the system information and settings are programmed, monitored, and controlled.
  • Indicators/Alarm Devices - F A C P's are usually connected to several types of indicators and alarm devices, such as audible alarms, strobes, relay switches, buzzers, etc. These devices alert personnel when an emergency has been detected by the F A C P system.

Installation & Maintenance

Setting up an FACP is a complicated process that requires specialized knowledge. F A C P systems must be properly installed and regularly maintained in order to ensure effective fire protection.

Proper installation requires an understanding of F A C P components, wiring, and the local fire code. F A C P maintenance includes regular testing and inspections to make sure that all system components are functioning properly.

How much does an F A C P cost?

F A C P prices can range by thousands of dollars depending on the size and complexity of the system. Installation costs can also vary widely, so it's best to consult with an experienced fire alarm technician before making any decisions.

You may also have to pay recurring fees for monitoring services, depending on how you structured overall monitoring system. It's possible to run an on-premises server that requires no ongoing fees.

To help you out, I've compiled data describing what you should pay for an FACP. I look at real-world bids for government buildings to speak very specifically about actual purchase prices in recent years.

There are two primary ways that you can monitor your individual F A C P's

Deciding between proprietary vs. central station monitoring is one of the most fundamental fire alarm decisions you have to make.

Traditionally, you'd monitor your FACPs very locally. You might have a room in a larger facility that brings all of your fire alarms into one location for central dispatch. It also used to be common to route alarms directly to the local fire department.

Managing your own in-house monitoring center (it's called "proprietary monitoring" in the industry) is still the most appropriate option for organizations above a medium size threshold. If you're a college campus, a military base, or (certainly) a city, you have the scale to justify the installation and management of a centralized fire alarm collection server. This will empower you to manage your own fire alarms.

Remember, also, that modern environments can benefit from redundancy. This includes fire panels that can send SNMP to your NOC center. A fire is a major incident that many people should know about. That absolutely includes your Network Operation Center (NOC). Building that alerting into the automation of your fire panels is one less thing to worry about and precious seconds saved during an emergency.

How do you know how many Fire Alarm Control Panels you need for your facility?

Fire panels are essential for protecting lives and property from fire-related incidents. F A C P's use sensors located throughout the monitored area to detect smoke, heat, or flame in order to alert personnel and first responders of any potential danger. FACPs must be properly installed and programmed according to fire codes and other applicable regulations in order for them to accurately monitor their designated areas.

The quantity and placement of fire panels is determined by multiple factors, including:

  • The distance between FACP and all required sensors,
  • The density of required sensors around the FACP, as well as
  • The accessibility of the panel by first responders.

If any of these applicable limits are exceeded for a given building, then another FACP will need to be added to adequately cover the area. Consult your in-house expert - or call a company like Digitize for assistance (1-800-523-7232).

What "initiating devices" and other equipment are typically used to be the "eyes" and "hands" of your F A C P?

Fire panels are designed to connect with a variety of fire detection and response systems. These can include smoke detectors, heat detectors, manual pull stations, sprinkler systems, and other similar types of initiating devices.

When a fire is detected by one or more initiating devices, the F A C P will detect the signals and then activate an alarm in order to alert personnel and first responders of a potential fire emergency.

Initiating devices such as smoke detectors, heat detectors, and manual pull stations are responsible for detecting the presence of a fire and sounding an alarm.

Other response systems such as sprinklers are part of an automated system that will activate when it senses fire or smoke.

Additionally, some F A C P setups may include additional sensors that detect activation of a response system such as flow sensors in fire-sprinkler plumbing which can detect when a sprinkler is engaged. In certain scenarios, this may be the F A C P's first indication of a new fire.

Call Digitize for assistance with any project that includes fire panels

The Digitize Engineering team is ready to help you as soon as you call. We'll point you in the right direction - whether or not that direction involves Digitize equipment. You'll have a great experience at Digitize today, and hopefully (for us) you'll have more projects in the future.

To get started now, call Digitize at 1-800-523-7232 or email

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