Learn these Fire Monitoring System Basics Before You Buy

By Justin Sagalow

September 19, 2022

When you're getting started doing research on fire monitoring systems, it can be tough to know what to buy. A fire monitoring system is a long-term investment, so it pays to take your time when considering the appropriate system for your needs. By finding the right monitoring system, you're taking the necessary steps to protect what's important to you.

Here, we're going to go over the different type of monitoring systems and what they do. By the end of this article, you'll be ready to make an informed decision on what monitoring system is the best choice for you.

What is a fire monitoring system?

fire monitoring system diagram

In this diagram, we see the workflow of a fire monitoring system. The initiating device is triggered and communication devices feed into the central display screen (ex. Prism LX).

A fire monitoring system is a group of devices that work together to detect a fire, collect and summarize information about the fire status, and contact the appropriate emergency services.

The subcomponents of a high-quality fire monitoring system:

  • Smoke, flame and/or heat detector
  • Fire alarm panel (otherwise known as a control panel, fire alarm control panel, or FACP)
  • Network, serial, fiber, or other cabling (unless you're using wireless/radio)
  • Phone line
  • Central display screen (an example of this would be the Prism LX by Digitize)

A fire monitoring system may also contain a physical pull handle. A pull handle can be used to manually trigger the fire alarm. This is helpful in the event that someone detects signs of a fire before a smoke detector is triggered.

Notification appliances, such as speakers or lights, and local sprinkler systems are not technically part of a fire monitoring system. They are activated separately. For example, most sprinkler systems activate once exposed to heat.

That being said, a fire monitoring system can be outfitted to monitor local alerting systems for additional information about a building's fire protection status.

How a fire monitoring system works

All fire monitoring systems respond to an initiating device. As we covered above, this could either be an automatic device, such as a smoke detector, or a manual device, such as a pull handle. Once a fire is detected, the initiating device sends an alert to the main control panel of the fire alarm system.

The control panel determines the appropriate response based on the collected information. It is typically at this point that notification appliances and sprinklers, if present, are activated. The response can also include other predetermined actions, such as closing doors, recalling elevators, and most importantly, notifying the local fire department. Later on, we will explore this in more detail.

smoke detector, heat detector, and pull handle

In this image, we see a smoke detector, heat detector and pull handle. These are "initiating device" subcomponents of a fire monitoring system.

The status of each control panel within your campus/facility is monitored by one of a few possible central options, which we'll also cover later.

All properly installed fire alarm systems will adhere to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Codes and Standards, as well as any state and local building codes.

What is the difference between a fire monitoring system and an alarm monitoring system?

An alarm monitoring system is a general term used to describe a variety of fire alarm monitoring, network management and security systems. An alarm monitoring system intended for network management or security may lack components specific to fire safety and prevention.

A network management system monitors a network for any interruptions due to weather, theft, or vandalism. These alerts will help you intervene early in the event of a power outage or HVAC unit failure, before any harm can come to your infrastructure.

A security system logs all site access, including the time of day and location that access was granted. Additional features include the ability to report intrusions, excessive access attempts, a centralized entry management station, and the abilities to further limit access points beyond that of a key and an alarm. With the incorporation of motion-sensors, electromagnetic door locks, and timers, site access can be controlled as well as monitored.

Monitoring your FACP

The last decision you have to make when selecting your fire monitoring system is how you want to monitor your control panel. There is no right answer, so be sure to review both before making your decision to find which best suits your needs.

1. Use a third-party service

Some companies that install a fire alarm monitoring system use a third-party monitoring service. There are many companies that offer this type of service, and they will be able to provide you with real-time information about which alarms are active. The obvious advantage here is the peace of mind provided when someone else is monitoring your system 24 hours a day. This only true, of course, if you choose one of the best fire alarm monitoring companies available

Delegating this responsibility to a dedicated service is a smart way to ensure constant fire safety. However, these services can be expensive and the recurring monthly fees will quickly exceed the one-time cost of a fire monitoring server. The cost of a third-party service should be taken into account when planning your monitoring system budget.

2. Use a central server that you control

This software allows you to collect data from multiple FACP panels and view it in one place. It also provides real-time updates, so you can always be sure that you're seeing the most up-to-date information. While this option does require some initial setup and configuration, it is a cost-effective way to monitor your FACP and have complete control your fire alarm monitoring system.

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.

If you have medium or large facility (like a university, military base, or city) and at least a small purchasing budget, a server like Prism LX with a long history of widespread use is probably your best option. Using a server like Prism LX allows you to choose your system's alarm responses for custom fit solutions. Digitize-inc.com also features an online chat box and toll free help number (1-800-523-7232) and email address (info@digitize-inc.com) for any setup questions or concerns, so you can start to see your ROI immediately upon installation.

Whichever route you choose, making sure your FACP is constantly being monitored is crucial to ensuring a fast and safe response in the event of an emergency. It's your duty to choose an effective external service or, ideally, a proven central server that is 100% under your control.

For more information about monitoring your FACP, read some of my other articles:
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