How to Update Your Legacy Fire Alarm Systems

By Justin Sagalow

October 16, 2022

Like most things in life, fire alarm systems in residential and commercial buildings require maintenance, and sometimes, even replacing. For a business owner or campus property manager, the prospect of replacing an existing system can be scary.

Fortunately, Digitize technology can save you thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours in costly construction projects with our custom solutions.

What is a legacy fire alarm system?

A legacy fire alarm system is an older fire alarm system that is in danger of failing to meet National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards. A system like this may consist of components that are no longer manufactured or for which technical support no longer exists.

Many residential and commercial buildings still use telegraph master boxes for their fire alarm systems. Oftentimes, these systems utilize physical pull handles, with someone pulling a lever to sound a local alarm.

In the most offensive cases, some of these systems violate code and don't even contact a municipal fire department via telegraph system. That being said, even legacy systems that do contact emergency services through telegraph should be updated. This is especially the case if they are no longer being serviced or supported by the manufacturer. Systems that rely on old-fashioned means of notification are increasingly prone to malfunctioning and failure.

old pull handle

This is an old pull handle indicative of an old or dysfunctional fire system in need of an upgrade. Old systems that do not get regularly serviced are increasingly prone to malfunctioning and failure.

Updating my system - is it hard?

Updating legacy fire detection systems doesn't have to mean ripping out a century-old telegraph network or killing your budget. It doesn't have to involve taking a year to install and wire a brand new system throughout the building. Our System 3505 Prism LX™ unit is designed to be installed directly into existing fire alarm infrastructure.

This unit is a contemporary, multiprotocol supervision station uniquely designed as a single platform for all your monitoring equipment. This unit supports a wide variety of equipment, regardless of manufacturer or protocol. It even has the ability to monitor panels and devices that are no longer supported by their original manufacturer.

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.

The Prism LX can monitor up to 500 active alarm points simultaneously, and in any combination of multiplex, telegraph / McCullough codes, direct-wire, digital dialer, network, polling radio, and serial input alarm signals, as well as Ethernet utilizing the AlarmLan. Options can be tailored to your installation’s precise needs.

What makes the Prism so notable is its ability to connect your legacy system to the modern world of alarm monitoring - without any invasive construction. The Prism LX provides your legacy system with modern reliability while giving you an entry point to update it - at your speed and discretion. You can use the Prism LX to monitor legacy devices, a combination of legacy and new devices, or if you are ready to fully upgrade your system, a series of brand new fire alarm devices.

With the Prism LX, emergency response teams receive specific data regarding the location and size of a fire. In a large building with many rooms, this could mean the difference between a safely extinguished fire and a total loss.

Is it time for me to update my system?

Frequent malfunctions, unresponsive smoke detectors, and recurring false alarms are all signs that it may be time to update your system. Left unaddressed, a faulty system can result in fines, property damage, and even death. Older systems rely on outdated technology and can not only be dangerous, but illegal. The NFPA has strict guidelines about fire alarm monitoring requirements for residential and commercial buildings.

Buildings with legacy life safety systems sometimes predate or lack the ability to be monitored by a monitoring system service. In some situations, this can be legal, so we recommend that you contact your local fire marshal for confirmation. Eventually, this alarm system will need to be replaced. At this point, the property owner will be required to meet current NFPA 72 standards and maintain active monitoring services.

What to expect when upgrading my fire alarm system

After integrating a new Prism LX unit into your existing system, you'll have access to many exciting features. The Prism provides after-hours monitoring and programmable automatic notification options. You'll have peace of mind knowing you won't have to worry about your new head end unit experiencing a mechanical breakdown. Most importantly, you'll have full support from a vendor who won't disappear tomorrow.

The next step is to start replacing your legacy fire alarm control panels, initiation devices, and notification devices with modern ones. Luckily, the Prism LX is designed to interpret both legacy and modern fire alarm control panels. Therefore, you can continue to keep your legacy panels operational while gradually introducing modern ones into your system.

legacy fire alarm system

This is a diagram of a legacy fire alarm system that takes advantage of both legacy and new fire alarm system components, all reporting to a Digitize System 3505 Prism LX head end unit. As you can see in the diagram, the Prism LX is able to interpret a wide range of signals.

You can implement the new fire alarm panels and fire alarms as your budget and installation capacity permits. This migration process can happen as quickly or as slowly as you like. This flexibility saves you capital expenditure, personnel, and transport costs. No matter where you are in the process, you'll have full network visibility every step of the way.

After you replace any part of your fire alarm system, it's good practice to hold onto the original component. Just because a device has been decommissioned, it doesn't have to mean that it's useless. Legacy equipment that is taken offline can be stored and used for spare parts for your operational legacy devices. This way, you can keep your legacy panels and alarms operating as long as possible, giving you maximum return on your investment in your old system.

At the same time, you have an open-ended upgrade path for the future that will free you from dependency on your legacy system. You can add new capabilities as you need them - expand your monitoring system as your network grows - and never worry that a mechanical breakdown will sideline your network monitoring for good.

Update your fire alarm monitoring system today

If you think that your fire alarm system or security system may need to be upgraded or replaced, we recommend that you reach out to us immediately. Updating your fire alarm monitoring infrastructure is also a great opportunity to take care of any other improvements simultaneously.

When you call your Digitize engineer, you can also talk through any opportunities for improvement that you have in mind. We’ll also ask you a few questions to check for updated system design opportunities you may not have considered.

Digitize is ready to speak with you about your upgrade at 1-800-523-7232. If you prefer, you can also email us at

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