On November 29, 2017 the Office of the Chief Officer of both the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) and the Country Fire Authority (“CFA”) released a letter to building owners fitted with Alarm Signalling Equipment (“ASE”). This three page letter outlines legitimate concerns by the fire brigades over practices that may limit some important functionality of and ASE under certain circumstances!
What is Alarm Signalling Equipment?
Alarm Signalling Equipment is an item of equipment leased by the Building Owner from a Monitoring Service Provider that provides the interface between an Automatic Fire Sprinkler System or a Fire Detection & Alarm System to the Alarm Monitoring Provider, via Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (“ESTA”) and finally to the relevant Fire Brigade.
In simple terms, the ASE is a RED BOX typically mounted within a Fire Detection & Alarm System or adjacent to an Automatic Fire Sprinkler System that receives an alarm signal from the Fire Panel or Sprinkler System and transmits that signal (normally via the mobile phone network) to the Monitoring Service Provider.
The image above illustrates a typical alarm signal from an automatic fire sprinkler system or fire detection and alarm system to the Fire Brigade.
Based on our understanding, there are THREE monitoring services providers operating in Victoria;
- ADT Fire Monitoring; and
- Code Red (Chubb Fire Monitoring); and
Each of these devices serves the same basic function however their operation and the way they display their status is different.
What is the purpose of Alarm Signalling Equipment?
The primary purpose of Alarm Signalling Equipment is to monitor and transmit an alarm signal from one of the following;
- a fire detector (heat, smoke, flame or carbon-monoxide); or
- a manual call point (also known as a break glass alarm); or
- the operation of an automatic fire sprinkler system (alarm pressure switch or water flow switch); or
- the disablement (closure) of a monitored water supply valve via an valve monitoring device.
In most cases (not all) where an ASE is fitted within the Fire Detection & Alarm System Control & Indicating Equipment (“FDCIE”) it will likely include additional signal monitoring for an isolation of one or more alarm zones or fault signal of the FDCIE. This additional monitoring is used to ensure the fire system is working and has not been disabled in any way that could adversely affect its operation.
The Problem Explained
The problem the Fire Brigade have acknowledged is that in some circumstances the wiring for the Alarm Signalling Equipment is not configured correctly so as to inhibit the transmission of the required signals to the alarm monitoring provider.
The most common of the signals which have been identified as being inhibited are the Alarm System Status (Isolate and Fault) signals. In addition there have been some circumstances where the alarm signal may have also been disabled.
The method of disablement is typically achieved by “shorting out” the signal wiring. Under normal conditions, the ASE will monitor the ALARM, FAULT and ISOLATE system status signals for a change in state from a normally closed circuit to an open circuit when the signal changes state.
This may be better illustrated by way of an illustration;
Where the problem arises the signal wiring is disabled as shown in the following illustration;
How did this occur?
The impairment of the alarm or system status signals is most likely due to interference or incorrect installation. According to the monitoring service providers, when a new system is installed they require the ASE installer to verify the signal at the time of connection and subsequent commissioning. This leads us to believe the ASE wiring has been modified subsequently to commissioning.
Why does this occur? (opinion)
This is the author's opinion and is based on observation and experience. The most common cause of this occurring is that a fire alarm system technician has been encouraged/instructed to disable the signal monitoring by a Building Owner or the Agent of the Owner; or someone (a fire system technician) takes it upon themselves to interfere with the correct wiring and bypass the required circuit wiring.
The effect of the Problem
When the signal transmission has been disabled by “short circuiting” the circuit wiring, the ASE no longer has the ability to monitor the status of the affected circuit. This can leave the building owner and occupants of the building unaware the required fire safety systems in their building have been disabled or are ineffective.
The consequences of disabling the signal transmission could lead to statutory fines covered by;
- Section 75b of the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Act (Vic) 1968; or
- Section 106A of the Country Fire Authority Act (Vic) 1958
In addition disabling the signal transmission could lead to an injury or worse fatality in the event of a fire or other emergency.
Not all fire systems are affected!
In some circumstances the “Alarm System Status” signal is not available from the Fire Indicator Panel or Automatic Fire Sprinkler System to which the ASE is connected. In the case of the Fire Indicator Panel, this is most likely due to the age of the fire system (approximately over 25+ years) and is also unlikely to be available for any Automatic Fire Sprinkler System connected directly to the ASE.
Fixing the Problem!
The first part of the answer to this question is to identify if your Alarm Signalling Equipment is affected. This is typically conducted as part of the routine monthly and yearly fire detection & alarm system or automatic fire sprinkler system test by Firewize Technicians.
Once a system has been identified as having a required signal impaired, it can be rectified relatively quickly. In most cases fixing the problem is a straightforward process and can typically take less than an hour to rectify and test the operation of the system.
Where to from here?
The inspection of any required ASE signal transmission forms part of the routine service for Customers of Firewize. Where the required signal from the ASE has been identified as being impaired, we will fix it as part of our routine service. Where a dedicated inspection and test of the ASE signal path is required, you can contact our support team to arrange a time for one of our technicians to attend your building and DOUBLE CHECK the current ASE signal path.
If you're not a current customer of Firewize we are offering a special (fixed price) service to enable you to book a time for one of our technicians to inspect you ASE and test the operation of the signal.
While we have taken every effort to get this article “just right” there may be some minor issue that needs correction. In this case, feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com and we will do our best to answer any questions that may arise.
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