How to Choose a Fire Alarm System for Commercial Buildings - An Intro to the Fundamentals

By Andrew Erickson

February 18, 2023

For ensuring fire safety in commercial buildings, fire alarm systems are essential for providing fast and accurate notification of fire events. They help ensure that building occupants can quickly evacuate the premises in an emergency situation and minimize the potential property damages a fire could cause.

For commercial buildings, fire alarm systems are required by law - although exact requirements vary by your location. An appropriate fire alarm system should be selected and installed in accordance with applicable fire safety codes.

In order to select the most suitable fire alarm system for your commercial building, it's important to understand the different fire alarm systems available and their individual benefits.

Conventional vs. Addressable Fire Alarm Systems

Fire panels are one of the most central fire alarm system components, and they come in two primary types:

Conventional fire alarm systems are one of the most common types used in commercial buildings. This fire alarm system is composed of manual fire alarm boxes, detectors and sounders that are wired together on a single loop.

They have the advantage of being easy to use and maintain, but they are limited in terms of their scalability and can become cumbersome when larger buildings require more fire alarms.

Addressable fire alarm systems are the modern type that offer more versatility and scalability than conventional fire alarm systems. These fire alarm systems are composed of fire detectors, control panels and sounders that are wired together on multiple loops.

They have the advantage of being more easily expandable and customizable than conventional fire alarms, which makes them a great option for larger commercial buildings.

Today's fire alarm systems also come with a variety of additional features to provide fire safety, such as fire suppression systems and fire alarms with automated voice evacuation instructions. These features can help ensure that occupants receive timely notification in the event of a fire and are able to evacuate safely and effectively.

Central Station vs. Proprietary (In-House) Fire Alarm Monitoring

When selecting fire alarm systems for commercial buildings, it is important to consider the type of fire alarm monitoring that will be used.

Central station fire alarm monitoring involves a third-party fire alarm service provider, who monitors fire alarms in multiple buildings and can quickly dispatch emergency services when necessary. This type of fire alarm monitoring is considered reliable (especially for smaller organizations where the cost of centralized monitoring equipment is prohibitive), but it can also be expensive in the long run.

Proprietary fire alarm monitoring is an in-house fire alarm monitoring solution where fire alarms are monitored by a building's staff or security personnel. This type of fire alarm monitoring becomes more affordable the longer you use it, because you make an up-front one-time purchase instead of a recurring monthly fee.

More importantly, proprietary monitoring empowers you to deliver world-class service during a fire emergency. When there's no third party involved, you'll have your local team handling alarms immediately as they happen.

Featured Proprietary Fire Alarm Monitoring Device: "System 3505 Prism LX"

The System 3505 Prism LX from Digitize is one example of a fire alarm monitoring system you can install to monitor your campus of commercial buildings (or perhaps many floors of a large building).

The most striking capability of the Prism LX when compared to your alternatives is its support for a wide range of fire alarm inputs.

Commercial buildings tend to do better than cities when it comes to modernization, but you'll likely still have 2 or 3 generations of equipment that your system must handle. This can include FACPs (fire panels) of varying ages and prices that use LAN, serial, mesh radio, or even telegraph. Even if you only have two of those transport types in your alarm system, the Prism LX can bring them onto a single screen (and the printed paper record required by many fire codes).

Your basic project architecture when you deploy the Prism LX will be surveying all of your alarm generation and aggregation equipment to determine what accessories you need. Digitize, the manufacturer of Prism LX, has a large range of complementary devices that allow legacy alarm equipment to be sent to and processed by your Prism LX server.

Talk to an expert before you decide on any fire alarm system

Choosing the right fire alarm system for your commercial building is an important decision, as it can have a major impact on fire safety and evacuation procedures.

It is always recommended that you consult with a fire protection professional when selecting fire alarm systems for commercial buildings. They can provide advice on the fire safety requirements of your location, help you choose an appropriate fire alarm system, and offer installation services to ensure that it is properly installed.

Fire alarm systems are essential for providing fire safety in commercial buildings and must be chosen and installed in accordance with applicable fire codes. Consult a fire protection professional to ensure that your fire alarm system is suitable for your building and meets fire safety regulations. With the right fire alarm system in place, you can help protect your commercial building and its occupants from fire-related incidents.

Digitize engineers are available any time you need a consultation

Digitize is a full-service provider of fire alarm monitoring systems, including those that you can use for commercial buildings. We're always happy to talk with you, even during the early planning stages of your project. In fact, that's actually when we can save you the most time. With a bit of early guidance, you won't waste time wading through dense technical material without help.

We can do a lot over the phone, but we also have experts who can visit you no matter where you are throughout the United States. Digitize is part of a family of companies, so we have experts in multiple regions. We also regularly attend trade shows and visiting our client base, so it probably won't be long until we're next in your area.

Call Digitize to get started now

It's beyond the scope of this article to discuss every detail of commercial fire alarm monitoring. Give us a call today to talk to an expert about your specific situation.

Call 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