Learn These Requirements for Fire Alarm System Monitoring

By Justin Sagalow

September 29, 2022

On this blog, we've talked extensively about fire alarm system monitoring. We've demystified what a monitored fire alarm system is. We've reviewed the parts of a monitored fire alarm system. We've even explored the pros and cons of monitoring your fire alarm system yourself vs. paying for a third-party monitoring service.

Let's assume that you've used our resources and educated yourself on the advantages of monitoring your own fire alarm system. You have decided to start monitoring your own fire alarm system. Like with most things in life - there is a legal component to take into account.

Taking control of your fire alarm monitoring system means assuming responsibility for the safety of yourself and those around you. It is imperative to follow the law and take all necessary precautions.

What is a monitored fire alarm system?

A monitored fire alarm system is simply a group of devices designed to prevent fires. These machines work together to detect and report fires both to the immediate residents and the municipal fire department. Depending on the specific system and the wishes of the client, these devices may be programmed to perform additional functions. These functions can include closing doors, suspending the use of elevators, and alerting additional contacts or services.

As we've previously talked about on this blog, monitored fire alarm systems typically consist of fire alarm control panels and initiation devices, such as smoke and heat detectors. Often, a monitored fire alarm system will also have various local fire prevention devices, such as sprinkler systems. Depending on how the fire alarm system is being monitored, there may be a central unit. This console receives any transmissions from the control panels, which in turn are communicating signals from the detectors.

prism lx central display screen

This is an image of a Prism LX central display screen. For those who wish to monitor their fire monitoring system instead of hiring a third party service to do it, the prism lx is one example of a readily available server on the market.

Monitored fire alarm systems can be found in virtually any school, business or municipal building. Considering their popularity, it is fair to wonder: are monitored fire alarm systems required by law?

Does a fire alarm system have to be monitored?

The National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, have established guidelines to ensure that your fire alarm monitoring system is safe. The NFPA, along with the International Business Code and the International Fire Code, work hard to ensure that when it comes to fire alarm system planning, safety is always a priority.

In any commercial structure that is legally required to have a fire alarm system, active monitoring services must be established and maintained. The NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code® outlines the various types of fire alarm systems that have been approved as sufficiently monitored. These can best be described as:

  • Auxiliary - A system where signals are received at the public fire service communications center through manual transmissions, similar to public fire alarm street boxes.
  • Proprietary Supervision Station - A product like Digitize's Prism LX. This is a physical unit that is designed to monitor several locations. This is a popular option for owners of multiple buildings or a campus, or a military base or even drydocked naval vessels. Click here to learn more about the Prism LX and find out if a Proprietary Supervision Station makes sense for you.
  • Remote Supervision Station - A 24-hour service that monitors other people's locations for a recurring fee. People that use these services often do not believe that they have the staff or ability to monitor their own systems. Unfortunately, due to the nature of recurring service fees, they end up paying more in the long run.
  • Central Station - Similar to the Remote Supervision Station, but also including services such as equipment installation, maintenance, inspection, and testing.

While each monitoring method is different, they all ensure that any distress signals will be received by qualified operators who are vigilant 24 hours a day and have been professionally trained to respond quickly and effectively.

If your building has existing fire alarm infrastructure that predates or lacks the ability to be monitored, we recommend that you contact your local fire marshal. In certain situations, the existing system may be sufficient. However, if this system is ever updated or replaced, the property owner will be required to meet current NFPA 72 standards and maintain active monitoring services.

Additionally, your insurance company or building owner will often require your fire alarm system to be connected to a 24-hour "central station" monitoring system. Depending on the insurance company, this may be necessary to trigger premium discounts, or in some cases, be approved for coverage at all.

campus aerial shot

This is an aerieal shot of a college campus. This is an example of a typical Digitize client who would opt to monitor their own fire alarm system due to the number of buildings on the campus.

Fire alarm sprinkler monitoring systems - are they required?

Fire alarm sprinkler systems are a great way to prevent fires and can commonly be found in most commercial, and some residential, buildings across the United States. However, constructing your fire prevention plan around the use of automated sprinklers requires careful planning. Failing to sufficiently monitor your fire alarm sprinkler system can have disastrous results. Without the appropriate sprinkler monitoring protocol, an unpaid water bill or a simple plumbing issue can result in a complete loss.

So are fire alarm sprinkler monitoring systems required?

The short answer is that it depends. Sprinkler systems do not have to be monitored in one and two-family residential dwellings. Monitoring is also not required for limited area systems serving fewer than 20 sprinklers. Beyond this, yes, fire alarm sprinkler monitoring systems are required on almost all commercial fire alarm sprinkler systems.

There are very few exceptions to this rule, especially in larger buildings. We always recommend that you check with state and local fire codes. It goes without saying that your fire prevention system should always be in accordance with the law.

What is a monitor module in a fire alarm system?

monitor module

This is an example of a monitor module. This would be placed on a non-addressable device to send signals to an addressable FACP in a monitored fire alarm system.

Fire alarm control panels, or FACPs, are an essential part of any type of monitored fire alarm system. In previous blog posts, we have underscored the differences between the two major categories of FACPs, addressable and non-addressable FACPs. On addressable FACPs, there are unique addresses for each initiating device. This allows first responders to quickly identify the source of an alarm.

Monitor modules can be found on addressable FACPs. They are put there to monitor any non-addressable additional devices, and interpret non-addressable signals. For example, a heat detector is designed for a simple, singular purpose, and has very limited function. To communicate with a control panel, it requires a monitor module to translate its signals into readable data.

Give us a call to start planning your fire alarm monitoring system

If you're looking to start monitoring your own fire alarm system and you don't know where to start, don't worry – we're here to help. Digitize has a long history of providing reliable fire alarm monitoring services and coming up with innovative custom alarm solutions.

Give us a call at 1-800-523-7232 and we'll be happy to discuss your options and find the best solution for your needs. Alternatively, you can email us at info@digitize-inc.com and we'll get back to you quickly.

Justin Sagalow

Justin Sagalow

Justin Sagalow is quite uniquely qualified for his Marketing Writer Position at Digitize. Arriving at Digitize with experience in law, finance, and editorial positions, Justin's skillset allow him to effectively communicate how best Digitize can address each client's individual needs. From his...Read More