A Guide to
Fire Alarm System Types

Last Updated: December 7, 2023

Fire alarm systems play a crucial role in safeguarding lives and property from fire emergencies. In the UK, choosing the right fire alarm system is essential, considering factors such as building structure, building purpose, and compliance with legislation. The main types of fire alarm systems include conventional, addressable, and wireless.

Conventional fire alarm systems operate based on a simple principle. When a detector detects smoke, heat, or carbon monoxide, or when a manual call point is activated, alarm sounders are triggered to warn occupants and initiate an evacuation. These systems are commonly used in various premises, and they can be categorised based on their aim of protecting life or property, as well as whether they are manual or automatic.

On the other hand, addressable fire alarm systems, also known as intelligent systems, offer advanced capabilities. They utilise sophisticated technology to pinpoint the exact location of a triggered device within the building. This enables precise identification and swift response to potential fire incidents. Addressable systems are typically more suitable for larger or complex premises.

Fire Alarm System Types

Wireless fire alarm systems provide the advantage of flexibility and ease of installation. They eliminate the need for extensive wiring, making them an ideal choice for retrofitting or temporary installations. These systems utilise wireless communication to transmit signals between the detectors and the control panel.

When implementing a fire alarm system, it is crucial to adhere to regulatory requirements. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies to all non-domestic buildings in the UK, requiring the responsible person to conduct and regularly update a fire risk assessment. Based on the assessment findings, appropriate fire safety measures, including detectors and alarms, must be in place to minimise the risk of harm during a fire incident.

For guidance on the design, installation, and maintenance of fire alarm systems, reference can be made to BS5839 Pt1:2017, a comprehensive resource that provides valuable insights for ensuring effective fire safety.

In summary, understanding the different types of fire alarm systems and their suitability for specific premises is essential for enhancing fire safety measures in the UK. Whether it’s a conventional, addressable, or wireless system, selecting the appropriate fire alarm system can significantly contribute to the protection of life and property in the event of a fire.

Conventional Fire Alarm System

Conventional fire alarm systems have been extensively utilised in smaller properties like shops and restaurants for many years in the UK. These systems function by dividing the building into multiple detection zones. Within each zone, detectors and call points are interconnected through dedicated circuits, which are then connected to the fire alarm control panel. Typically, each floor or fire compartment is wired on a separate circuit, represented by a zone on the control panel. The control panel incorporates several zone lamps, indicating the specific zone from where the fire alarm has originated. However, in order to precisely locate the individual device triggering the alarm, a manual search within the designated zone is required. This information is crucial for the Fire and Rescue Service as well as the building management. The effectiveness of identifying the fire’s origin is determined by the number of zones supported by the control panel and the number of circuits wired throughout the building.

Addressable Systems

In an addressable system, the detection principle is akin to a conventional system. However, the key distinction lies in the Control Panel’s capability to accurately identify the specific detector or call point that has triggered the alarm. Through programming, the Control Panel displays the relevant information associated with the activated detector, providing precise details as required.

Analogue Addressable Fire Alarm Systems

Analogue addressable fire alarm systems, often referred to as “intelligent” fire alarm systems, provide detailed information on individual detectors, unlike conventional systems that only provide data on specific circuits or zones. These systems are specifically designed for large commercial premises and complex networked setups. While they are more expensive and intricate compared to conventional systems, they offer enhanced flexibility, intelligence, speed of identification, and control scope.

In a true “intelligent” analogue system, each detector functions as a self-contained computer, assessing its surrounding environment and relaying a comprehensive status report, including the precise location, to the Control Panel. This communication encompasses information on smoke, heat, faults, or the need for detector head cleaning.

Wireless Fire Alarm Systems

Wireless fire alarm systems offer a viable alternative to traditional wired installations, particularly in situations where wired setups are unsuitable, such as in grade-listed properties where wiring restrictions apply. While wireless systems may have a higher initial cost, they offer increased flexibility, affordability, and significantly quicker installation.

These battery-powered radio-linked fire alarm systems provide an equivalent level of protection compared to conventional wired systems. They utilise secure and license-free radio communications to establish connections between sensors, devices (such as smoke detectors and call points), and controllers. This straightforward concept yields various unique advantages, enabling a fully functional analogue addressable fire detection system without the need for extensive cabling.

It is important for wireless systems to adhere to the requirements set out in BS EN 54-25, ensuring compliance with the relevant standards.

Please note that this article provides basic easy-to-understand guidance on fire safety provisions and the key fire safety information required to comply with legislation. Our articles are reviewed regularly. However, any changes made to standards or legislation following the review date will not have been considered. We aim to assist you to understand the fire-related terms within your Fire Risk Assessment.  It does not provide detailed technical guidance on all fire safety provisions, and you might require further advice or need to consult the full standards and legislation.

Fire Risk Consultancy Services have the knowledge and experience to assist your business to comply with all legal requirements surrounding fire safety including legislation. Be sure to read our accompanying guides: British Standards Relating to Fire Alarms,Categories of Fire Alarm Systems, Different Types of Fire Detector Head,Fire Alarms in the Home, AND Fire Extinguishers, Emergency Lighting, Fire Door Regulations, Fire Safety Signs, also published on this site. 

Please take a moment to have a look around our website where you will find related articles and guides to all the services we can provide your business with, from providing fire risk assessments, fire safety training, and advisory services to Articles on Fire Safety Provisions and our Top Fire Safety Tips!