Fast Tutorial on Fire Alarm Monitoring Basics

By Andrew Erickson

August 28, 2022

The process of fire alarm monitoring involves a lot of universal elements, but also significant choices you must make. There are seasoned professionals in fire and security specialist roles, but it's likely that you're here because you want to expand your knowledge.

You can't afford to ignore the design requirements and important choices you need to make. Let's get started by looking at everything that goes into high-quality fire alarm monitoring.

Components of Fire Monitoring Systems

You have to start out with a fundamental understanding of the devices that make up a fire alarm monitoring system, including:

  • Automatic initiating devices like smoke detectors. These are capable of triggering a fire alarm without any human interaction at all. Even though a fire might be reportable by humans, that typically creates a delay. In some cases (such as due to panic or sleep), you can't rely on building occupants to trigger an alarm at all. Automatic initiating devices provide an excellent layer of protection, since they never get tired or frightened.
  • Manual initiating devices like pull handles in public buildings. These are the traditional method of fire alert, and they can still serve an important purpose today. Any additional system offers redundant protection. There are also times when a human might detect a fire earlier than an automatic sensor does.
  • The Fire Alarm Control Panel (FACP) that collects and summarizes information about the fire status within a single building (or small group of buildings). Remember that an FACP can also be a central collector for the security system, as well. When first responders arrive at an FACP during an emergency, they'll consult its LED lights or display screen to get more information about the evolving conditions that must be addressed.
  • Communication devices that alert emergency services.
  • The alarm transport (ex. wire or network cable) that connects the components above, allowing them to communicate with each other during an emergency.

Alarm Transport Must Be Protected

It does absolutely no good to detect a fire if that alarm can't be reported.

Now, it's obvious that even a simple smoke detector can have some value locally. If it goes into an alarm state, the high-decibel audible alert will warn those nearby.

If that smoke detector (an "automatic initiating device") can't also notify the building FACP or a higher-level server of some kind, the response time of first responders will significantly suffer. At that point, you're relying on a type of "manual initiating device" in the form of someone's cell phone who has the good sense to dial 911.

That's why any fire alarm monitoring system must comply with standards that dictate how durable and protected the transport for alarm data must be.

For most systems, this is simple copper wire or network cabling. Jacketing has standards that dictate a certain amount of survivability for the wire during fire conditions. Remember that fire alarms aren't built to survive in ideal situations. They're built to survive worst-case scenarios for long enough to report good data to first responders and dispatch.

Who Will Receive Your Fire Alarms?

No matter what commercial fire alarm hardware you have in place, you have to decide who will get the generated alarms and make dispatch decisions.

One popular choice is to use a third-party monitoring service, although that's not without its challenges. You obviously have to pay a recurring monthly/annual contract fee for such a service. You also lose a lot of control in exchange for the convenience of using monitoring centers.

One alternative that many professionals choose is to run a "proprietary" (in-house) server that collects fire alarms directly.

With this type of setup, your fire protection systems will send a signal to a server (or redundant pair) that you maintain at some kind of control room within your facility. You'll absolutely know that you have properly monitored fire alarms, because you're doing the job yourself.

Running your own fire alarm monitoring server requires more time initially and some additional up-front budget, but the investment pays for itself with increased control and one-time purchasing (instead of fees that go on forever).

You Must Comply with NFPA Codes

There are massive codes from the NFPA that dictate what satisfies each component of a quality fire protection system. You don't need to know all of that information when you're just getting started, but you may already have some specific code sections that you have targeted for compliance.

You need to consult with an expert that has done this kind of project before. From a simple smoke alarm to the most complex alarm panel, you must comply with NFPA codes, plus any state/local rules that apply.

It's not impossible to understand your code obligations on your own, but it's so much easier when you get an expert to point you in the right direction.

Get a Free Quote to Compare a Monitoring Service vs. Doing It Yourself

A standard part of any purchase decision is a comparison of price:value ratio f9 option. You need to consider the price for each possible choice, but also the much-more-important question of value received.

We're in the life safety business here. Similar to how you might want to protect your home and family from fires, you need to remember that this is the very same protection you're working to give others.

At Digitize, we're a manufacturer of central fire alarm monitoring systems. To provide a reference price for this option, we're happy to send you a free quote.

Just give our engineers a call and explain what you're trying to accomplish. We'll probably ask a few follow-up questions, including the number and manufacturer(s) of your fire alarm control panels.

Call a Digitize Engineer Now

We're ready to help you with this project. It's fully expected that you might choose a different option. Whether you do that or not, you owe it to the people you serve to understand all your options.

Give us a call at 1-800-523-7232 or send an email to

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