What's New in Fire Alarm Technology for 2023?

By Andrew Erickson

July 15, 2023

Fire alarm systems are one of the most important technologies the world uses for protecting people from fire. The building must be built to resist combustion and to aid evacuation. Beyond that, a rapid alert system is the best protection.

As the underlying science advances, new technologies are emerging that offer additional features and benefits in terms of early warning detection and life safety.

Let's take a closer look at some of the newest developments in fire alarm technology as celebrate the midway point of 2023.

Heat Detectors

Heat detectors are a popular type of fire detection system (known as "initiating devices" in the NFPA codes). They can detect the increase in temperature caused by a fire and activate an alarm to alert people of danger. This (obviously) is useful in situations where heat reaches the sensor but smoke does not.

Newer UL-listed heat detectors feature improved accuracy thanks to advanced sensing technology. Additionally, many new heat detectors offer easier installation and better compatibility with existing NICET-certified fire alarm systems.

A recent wave of retirement in the United States has affected may different industries. We're seeing older staff being replaced by younger staff at a prodigious rate.

With this demographic shift comes a change in amount and type of experience. An easier installation helps everyone, but it is particularly important in this time of rapid staff change.

Modern fire alarms are also becoming smarter in distinguishing between different types of fire threats. They use dual-sensor technology that can detect both fast-burning and slow-burning fires.

Additionally, thermal imaging and infrared technology are now being incorporated into fire alarms to detect heat sources, providing another layer of safety and reducing the risk of false alarms.

Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors are another important component of fire protection. They detect the presence of smoke in the air and can trigger an alarm before an actual flame has even started.

The newest models feature advanced sensing technology that provides greater accuracy and faster response time than ever before. Additionally, many new smoke detectors offer "air sampling" technology which detects smoke from inside the walls or other hard-to-reach places.

Notification Appliances

Notification appliances are a vital part of any fire alarm system. They provide audible and visual warnings to alert people of danger and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to safely evacuate.

The newest notification appliances feature improved design and advanced notification technology, which helps to reduce false alarms and ensure that everyone gets the critical information they need quickly.

On model I reviewed on a manufacturer's website describes a goal of adapting sensitivity to the local environment. This makes them much more effective than a smoke detector that simply has a fixed threshold for activating an alarm condition.

Enhanced IoT Integration

Internet of Things (IoT) technology has seeped into almost every facet of our lives, and fire alarm systems are no exception. Enhanced IoT integration is enabling smart fire alarms to connect with other smart devices seamlessly.

As just one example: in the event of a fire, your alarm system can now automatically notify your smart security system to unlock doors for a safe and quick evacuation. It can also communicate directly with local fire departments, speeding up their response time.

This is just one consumer example. Perhaps that greatest improvement that IoT offers in general is its use of wireless technology. So much of NFPA fire codes and the NEC are devoted to ensuring short-term survivability of alarm system wiring in an emergent fire. Wireless technology eliminates this potential weak link in a system (although other considerations do emerge).

AI-Powered Alarm Systems

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing the game in fire detection. AI-powered fire alarms can learn from the environment they're placed in, understanding the difference between a dangerous fire and harmless smoke or steam. This "learning" capacity drastically reduces false alarms and increases overall efficiency.

In remote monitoring, we deal heavily in the concept of "nuisance alarms".

Nuisance alarms are simply false alerts or warnings that are triggered by non-threatening events, leading to unnecessary action or response. This wastes resources in the moment. It becomes an operational challenge, as it requires resources to investigate the alert and confirm its validity.

In the longer term, operators become desensitized to alerts because they're not sure if a new alert is "real". This is "alarm fatigue", where constant false alerts could potentially desensitize the response team to genuine emergencies.

Increased Use of Wireless Technologies

As we discussed above, wireless transport is one major benefit of IoT. Wireless is also used in many other contexts (ex. mesh radio) under the umbrella of "fire alarm monitoring".

Wireless fire alarms are gaining popularity due to their ease of installation, flexibility, and reliability. They operate on radio frequency signals, allowing for the quick and easy addition of extra detectors as needed.

Mobile App Notifications

Many contemporary fire alarm systems come with mobile applications that alert users directly to their smartphones or smart devices in case of fire detection. This real-time notification system can save valuable seconds in an emergency, especially when occupants are away from the property.

This is largely true for smaller systems. In more urban environments, you can expect that most smartphone notifications will be via smartphone alerts initiated by local authorities.

Voice Alarm Systems

The use of voice alarm systems is another notable development in recent years that continues to accelerate.

Research shows that people respond quicker to voice instructions during emergencies than to traditional alarm bells. These systems use a calm and clear voice to give evacuation instructions, making them particularly beneficial in high-occupancy settings like schools, hotels, or hospitals.

It's immediately apparent what a voice instruction is asking of you. Bells and beeps, although strongly associated with fire alarms, can create moments of hesitation that can prove costly.

2023 Has Already Delivered Many New Developments

The advancements in fire alarm technologies in 2023 are significant and continue to improve our ability to detect and respond to fire threats. As these systems become more sophisticated, it's important to stay informed and consider upgrading to ensure the highest level of safety. At some point, you may have a "routine" upgrade project that requires one of these technologies to stay compliant with updated fire codes.

Whether you’re looking to update an existing system or install a new one, understanding the capabilities of these latest technologies will help you make an informed decision. Remember, fire safety is an ongoing commitment.

Speak with a Digitize Engineer About Your Project

If you’re looking to upgrade your fire alarm system, speak with a Digitize engineer about your project. Our team has an in depth understanding of the latest technologies and can help you decide which system is best suited for your needs. We also provide UL-listed equipment and can refer you to NICET-certified installation services that ensure your system will perform well for years into the future.

Call us now at 1-800-523-7232 or send email to info@digitize-inc.com

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