fire alarm

What is Swift Technology?

SWIFT stands for Smart Wireless Integrated Fire Technology. SWIFT systems provide a flexible, reliable solution for many applications that are problematic for traditional wired devices. SWIFT systems are a commercial wireless fire detection system using a robust, self-healing mesh technology. SWIFT sensors detect fire, just like their wired counterparts, while providing installation flexibility in a wireless format. This wireless technology is available for fire alarm control panels, voice evacuation panels, emergency communications systems, advanced detection, gas and flame detection, and notification appliances.

Traditional wired systems can be costly to install in concrete walls and ceilings, and with buried wires, they can also be obtrusive in surface mount conduit, or even dangerous if they are being installed in construction where asbestos is present. In addition, wireless devices are ideal for use in temporary structures such as portable classrooms and traveling exhibits. SWIFT systems are wireless, which make these potential problems obsolete. The systems can use any combination of modules, smoke and/or heat detectors.

SWIFT systems use a mesh network for communication where there is a child-parent relationship between devices, so that each device has two parents. This provides a second path for communication, to be used as a back-up in the event that one device can no longer operate for any reason. This back-up allows for the rest of the devices to still directly communicate with each other, or through one or more intermediate devices, even if one device becomes inoperable. The devices are also designed to find the strongest signal path for each device. SWIFT technology utilizes frequency hopping to prevent outside interference, whether intentional or accidental, to maintain your system security.swift mesh network

In addition, both wired and wireless devices can be present on the same fire alarm control panel, providing an integrated wired-wireless solution for increased installation potential. A system can have up to 50 devices per gateway, in any combination of detectors and modules. However, each device uses one address on the panel, so address capacity cannot exceed the panel limits.

Device spacing for wireless technology follows the NFPA guidelines. If signal strength is low, then an additional module or detector can be installed that will act as a repeater. Generally, it is better to use a module as a repeater, since detectors require additional maintenance.

For more in-depth information about this topic, check out A1’s Lunch & Learns for architects and engineers.

A1 is a leading expert on the latest technology in life safety. To find out more information or to ask a question, click here or call us at 1-800-859-6198.

Jack Menke
Jack Menke

Requirements for Low Frequency Audible Alarms

Statistics show that smoke detectors and fire alarm systems save lives. As more homes and businesses have smoke alarm and fire alarm systems, the number of lives lost in fires has decreased. 520 Hz sounders are the next technological step in saving lives. 520 Hz signaling, also known as low frequency signaling, describes an audible warning signal that meets the UL standard for a 520 Hz square wave tone.

Code update for Low Frequency Sounders

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. As such, the NFPA establishes standards and codes for fire safety, the following requirements are from the 2010/2013 Editions of NFPA 72 that went into effect on January 1, 2014. Real-world challenges and studies led to the development of these specific low-frequency requirements located in Chapters 18 and 29 of NFPA 72, and related NFPA 720 requirements and ANSI/UL standards.

Code Updates mean Legal requirements in some states

Ohio and Kentucky have statewide adoption of the low-frequency sounder codes. While Indiana has not currently adopted the codes into their laws, preventing the loss of life during a fire is reason enough to utilize low-frequency sounders in fire alarms. Compliance is only part of the picture. As minimum requirements, codes and laws don’t take into account the nuances of good system design. Other considerations that must be taken into account with a life safety design include best practices, commercial viability, customer considerations and even compatibility. The primary objective for life safety systems is to keep building occupants safe. Because life safety systems must also be designed in an effective manner that is not cost prohibitive, it is important to understand the reasoning behind codes and laws. Only with this understanding can decisions be made that act in the best interests of building owners, designers, and occupants.

Why the new requirements?

Low frequency audible alarms (520Hz) have high waking effectiveness for individuals who are hard of hearing, middle-aged to elderly, or school-age children. In fact, 520 Hz square wave signal is the most effective in waking all individuals. Because of this, the requirements in NFPA codes are for low-frequency sounders in all areas intended for sleeping. This requirement is only for new construction or significant renovations, so there is no need to retrofit existing installations. The sounders are for notification appliances connected to and controlled by a fire alarm or emergency communications system.

Are any facilities exempt from this requirement?

Healthcare settings, correctional/detention facilities, and other facilities where private mode signaling is employed and where staff are trained to alert and evacuate occupants according to established protocols are exempt from the low frequency sounder requirements. In addition, these requirements do not apply to dwelling unit life safety systems as single- and multiple-station alarms and household fire alarm systems have requirements outlined in Chapter 29 of NFPA 72. You should always check with your AHJ for local requirements for your facility.

Design Considerations and Challenges

Some life safety systems may need special design consideration to accommodate low frequency notification. Power supplies, amplifiers, audio source units, horns, sounders, and speakers all play a part in achieving code-compliant 520 Hz signaling. The ease or difficulty with which the new requirements are deployed depends on the system and the manufacturer. Even if it’s as simple as specifying different horns or speakers for sleeping areas, there remains the challenge among life safety designers and building owners of using these signals with the greatest life-saving effect and in compliance with local, state, and national codes.

For more in-depth information about this topic, check out A1’s Lunch & Learns for architects and engineers.

A1 is a leading expert on the latest technology in life safety. To find out more information or to ask a question, click here or call us at 1-800-859-6198.

Jack Menke
Jack Menke

Why you should be specifying cell dialers

Plain old telephone service (POTS) lines have served us well but are quickly coming to an end. As this technology becomes obsolete, communication systems that once relied on it – including alarm monitoring – are looking to cellular service as a replacement. There are many benefits to specifying cell dialers in your projects.

The end of analog lines is near. In December of 2009, AT&T reported to the FCC that is was seeing ways of phasing out ‘Relics of a By-Gone Era.’ Now, seven years later, analog lines have been replaced with digital or cellular devices for most industries. Alarm panels are one of the few remaining devices that regularly rely on analog lines for monitoring. Why though, are we allowing a vital part of our security and life safety systems to rely on outmoded technology? You should be specifying the latest proven technology, not outdated technology.

It’s not just that analog lines are outmoded, the replacement – cellular service – is significantly better. Single path cell systems report into the central station every 5 minutes, versus every 24 hours for a system connected via POTS lines. This dramatically increases the ability of the central monitoring station to discover a problem with the fire protection system. Consider this, if a system is on POTS lines it might check in at 2:00 a.m. If the system then experiences a problem and shuts down at 2:04 a.m., the central monitoring station will not know there is a problem until 2:00 a.m. the next morning. That’s almost a full 24 hours without protection!  However, if the system is on a cellular monitoring service the problem will be discovered at 2:05 a.m., allowing the Life Safety provider to notify property management almost immediately of a problem and decrease system downtime.

For more in-depth information about this topic, check out A1’s Lunch & Learns for architects and engineers.

A1 is a leading expert on the latest technology in life safety. To find out more information or to ask a question, click here or call us at 1-800-859-6198.

Greg Lane

The Cost of False Alarms

We all know the annoyance of false alarms – they interrupt our day and our business. According to a recent report from the NFPA, the cost of false alarms extends far beyond the time and money lost by those working where the false alarm occurs.

In 2014, according to the NFPA, in the U.S. fire departments responded to almost 2.5 million false alarms. That’s almost twice the total number of reported fires and five times the number of structure fires. Responding to false alarms costs our nation’s fire service in the form of fuel expenses, wear and tear on firefighter gear and apparatus, the risk of collision and injury during response, and a growing complacency among first responders to automatic alarms.

It is imperative that property owners and managers have the correct inspections and maintenance performed on their systems to reduce the number of false alarms and lower the overall cost currently experienced by our fire service organizations. Here are some tips from A1 on managing and minimizing false alarms.

true cost of false alarmsSource: BuildingReports<http://www,>, October 26, 2016


Prevent Fire Alarm Trouble Signals

Limit the inconvenience of trouble signals from your Fire Alarm system by being pro-active in replacing batteries.

Fire alarms are a system of multiple devices working together to detect and warn people through visual and audio appliances when smoke, fire, carbon monoxide or other emergencies are present. The fire alarm panel is the electrical panel that monitors all components of the system. It also sends trouble signals for problems found within the fire alarm system, problems which may cause the system to not work properly and put your people and assets at risk.  Fire alarm systems are prone to errors given the sheer number of devices involved so regular inspections and maintenance are key in keeping your system operating properly. Regular maintenance can also limit the number of trouble signals you receive each year as your Life Safety Partner will inspect and service the devices to keep them running properly.

Fire alarms need to be able to work during an emergency, and since emergencies can cause power outages a battery back-up to your system is an important component. When your battery power runs low, your fire alarm system will send a trouble signal to the central monitoring station, who will then call the system owner. The fire alarm panel will also beep locally at the panel and annunciator if one is present.

Trouble signals from your Fire Alarm system won’t wait for a convenient time; whether you are in a meeting, out of town, or sleeping at 2 a.m. you will be receiving the alert and need to address it immediately. By pro-actively replacing your system batteries every two years, you can limit both the number of trouble signals you receive and the increased costs of emergency service from your Life Safety Partner.

Parts of the Fire Alarm System:

Fire alarm control panel (FACP) – also known as the fire alarm control unit, is the hub of the system. It monitors inputs and system integrity, controls outputs and relays information.

Smoke Detectors – smoke detectors have built in sensors, and when smoke is found in the atmosphere, they send information to the fire alarm panel. The two most common types of smoke detectors are ionization and photoelectric. The sensing chambers of these detectors operate differently to sense visible or invisible combustion particles from developing fires.

Primary power supply – commonly the non-switched 120 or 240 volt alternating current course supplied from a commercial power utility. In non-residential applications, a branch circuit is dedicated to the fire alarm system and its constituents. “Dedicated branch circuits” should not be confused with “Individual branch circuits” which supply energy to a single appliance.

Secondary (backup) power supplies – This component, commonly consisting of sealed lead-acid storage batteries or other emergency sources including generators, is used to supply energy in the event of a primary power failure.

Initiating devices: This component acts as an input to the fire alarm control unit and are either manually or automatically activated, such as pull stations, heat detectors, or smoke detectors. Heat and smoke detectors have different categories of both kinds. Some categories are beam, photoelectrical, aspiration, and duct.

Notification appliances: This component uses energy supplied from the fire alarm system or other stored energy source, to inform people of the need to take action, usually to evacuate. This is done by means of a flashing light, strobe light, electromechanical horn, “beeper horn”, chime, bell, speaker, or a combination of these devices.

Building safety interfaces: This interface allows the fire alarm system to control aspects of the building environment and to prepare the building for fire, and to control the spread of smoke fumes and fire by influencing air movement, lighting, process control, human transport and exit. Building safety interfaces include magnetic smoke door holders, duct mounted smoke detection, emergency elevator service, and public address rack.

Can you ensure each device in your fire alarm is being inspected and tested? You can if your Life Safety Partner uses a barcoded method of inspection, ensuring the inspector finds and tests each device efficiently. Your inspection report should list the results for each device, as well as the date/time stamp for when it was last inspected. These details will provide you with piece of mind and your AHJ inspector with full system information.

A1 is a leading expert on the latest technology in life safety. To find out more information or to ask a question, click here or call us at 1-800-859-6198.

Jack Menke
Jack Menke

Electrical Contractors: 8 Ways to Keep your Fire Protection Project on Schedule

Keeping your project on schedule can be a challenge. Planning, communicating and coordinating with the different trade professionals is important and one set-back can cause a ripple effect for others. Here are a few items Electrical Contractors can check off the list to keep the fire protection part of the plan on moving forward.

  1. Have background CAD Drawings available

Your fire protection project starts with installation drawings which overlay with the project’s background CAD drawing. The design of a fire protection project cannot begin until these original drawings are received. When you select your Life Safety partner, have your project’s CAD drawings ready to hand over so that the fire protection design can begin immediately. To delay the start of the design can lead to slow submittals, unnecessary delays, or even missed deadlines.

  1. Coordination with other trades

To have a successful fire protection design, your Life Safety partner will need to coordinate efforts with other trades during construction. Successful communication between trades will limit delays and errors in project delivery. For example, the sprinkler contractor needs to communicate the number and locations of sprinkler points to be monitored. It is recommended that your elevator contractor and fire alarm contractor meet early in the schedule to discuss the interface. Many issues and delays can occur if miscommunication occurs between the fire alarm and HVAC professionals, so A1 recommends that you use your fire alarm contractor to supply and install the system duct detectors. This cuts down on the opportunity for problems and delays, and allows the duct detectors to be programmed in a way that they can be reset at the fire alarm panel.

  1. Phone Company

We all know utilities move at their own pace. Waiting on the phone company to provide a dedicated line for your fire sprinkler monitoring system can be frustrating and cause an unnecessary delay. By utilizing cell monitoring you can cut out the phone company altogether. Take back control of your project. Your Life Safety partner can install a cell dialer during construction.

  1. Power

Your Fire Alarm panel requires a dedicated power line with 120-volt circuit with a breaker lock marked “fire” in red. Without this power line installed and properly marked, your Life Safety partner cannot move forward with the fire alarm panel install and programming. Ensure that your power is properly run before your Life Safety partner is scheduled to perform the fire alarm install.

  1. Check all Circuits

This is another item that needs to be completed before your Life Safety partner can begin installation. Your electrician should check all circuits to ensure they are free of trouble, no grounds, opens or shorts. If your fire alarm panel senses these troubles it will not work properly, your Life Safety partner will have to spend valuable time rechecking all lines for the problem which can delay the schedule.

  1. Communicate Permit Notes/Changes

When permits are returned with comments it is imperative that these notes be passed back along to your subcontractors including your Life Safety partner. If changes are required but not implemented, you can fail your final walk-through and delay occupancy. Even small changes can take time and cause extra expense if they have to be corrected after all work is complete; however, the delay and expense can be minimized if the changes are communicated during construction.

  1. Communicate changes to project schedule

Changes to your project schedule need to be communicated to your Life Safety partner and other subcontractors as soon as possible. If you are changing your project to a phased project, experiencing delays, or accelerating your project getting all of your partners on-board with that change as quickly as possible can be the difference in successfully meeting your new timeline.

  1. 100% Pre-Check

You should test 100% of the fire alarm devices before the AHJ arrives for the final inspection. This ensures a successful final and occupancy. More importantly, it provides confidence that the fire alarm system will work in the case of an actual emergency.

A1 is a leading expert on the latest technology in life safety. Click here to see more information on how A1 can provide all your fire safety needs.

Jack Menke
Jack Menke

Fire Alarm or Emergency Signaling at Schools

What should school alarms have: horns and strobes or audio messages?

Most state fire, building, and life safety codes require all new K-12 schools to have a fire alarm system which includes horns and strobes. For schools with more than 100 occupants, it is required by NFPA that the systems initiate an audio alarm to notify occupants. This alarm must meet requirements of, and is installed in accordance with, NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.

A fire alarm system has at least horns and strobes that signal when the system is activated. The horns and strobes are the traditional alert and are required for all fire alarm systems. Adding audio messages to your fire alarm takes your system to the next level. Audio messages can be individualized for specific circumstances, instead of a generic horn and strobe, and provide more information for how to respond to the situation.

NFPA 72 permits the emergency voice/alarm communications system to provide other uses, such as for public address (PA) or mass notification purposes. Some features of the PA system may seem to interfere with an emergency communication system such as the ability to lower the volume on speakers, emergency notification systems can override the local volume controls to reset them to the emergency sound level. In addition, emergency notification systems need to be set to override any PA non-emergency messages. Specific design requirements for a school’s emergency communication system also include the ability to broadcast live voice messages by paging zones, and requires an emergency power supply which can support the system for 24 hours.

NFPA 72, Chapter 24, provides guidance for messages recorded in the emergency communication system. It requires that messages be developed to address each scenario outlined in the school’s emergency response plan (which means schools are required to have an emergency response plan). Emergency messages must have content that provides information and instructions to the building occupants. An evacuation message must use the standard alarm evacuation signal consisting of a Temporal-3 alarm signal (which is the recommended standard evacuation pattern for smoke and fire alarms) for at least two cycles before and after the recorded voice message.

While this overview was a general review of requirements for school emergency notification systems, it is important to review your state and local code requirements as they may dictate other design requirements. You should also review your emergency response plan with your local police and fire department to get their input and coordinate responses.

A1 is a leading expert on the latest technology in life safety. To find out more information or to ask a question, click here or call us at 1-800-859-6198.

Jack Menke
Jack Menke