Man inspecting fire alarm system

What You Should Know About Smoke Alarm Systems for Your Business

Searching for a smoke alarm system for your business? You’re probably going to need a smoke detection system. The two terms are used interchangeably, but they don’t actually mean the same thing. Getting the definitions right is important, so you understand how to keep your people and business safe.

The right smoke detection system is not only important to meet NFPA 72®, the fire alarm standard issued by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), but it also helps keep your property and employees safe. During a fire, you want the best technology available to quickly detect danger and prompt action to prevent an even bigger emergency.

But before we get started, let’s define our terms.

The distinguishing features of smoke alarms, smoke detectors, and fire alarm systems

Smoke alarms

A smoke alarm detects smoke and sounds an audible, sometimes visual, warning. This self-contained, all-in-one device is typically used in residential settings—and sometimes in business settings—as an important first line of defense against fires. Smoke alarms are suited for situations where you want the alarm to sound in a small radius. They are an ideal fit for individual apartments where every incident (burnt toast, etc.) that produces smoke does not need to trigger a building-wide alarm and evacuation.

Smoke detectors

Unlike smoke alarms, smoke detectors must connect to a fire alarm control panel—they aren’t standalone devices. Their job is to detect smoke and activate other parts of the fire protection system. Smoke detectors can trigger alarms locally or throughout the building and then close doors, alert emergency services, and much more.

The fire alarm control panel can have programming that sets a range of parameters for the detector (time delay, sensitivity, etc.) and may include algorithms to limit the risk of unwanted alarms. Smoke detectors are often used in common areas of residential complexes and throughout government, commercial, healthcare, and industrial buildings.

Fire alarm systems

Fire alarm systems spring into action when a potential fire has been detected. They do not operate alone but are part of complex networks of many connected devices and components that work together to keep buildings and occupants safe from fires.

Fire alarm systems take cues from initiating devices, including smoke detectors, sprinkler water flow switches, and manual pull stations. When the initiating devices signal potential danger, the control panel goes into an alarm state that sounds an alarm or notifies appliances within the building. Advanced models can also alert emergency services and trigger other systems, like access control, light management, and sprinklers. You can also get 24/7 system monitoring for added protection.

Summing up

Based on these definitions, you can see that although the terms—smoke detectors, smoke alarms, and fire alarm systems—are similar, it is the latter term that regulatory agencies typically use for businesses. NFPA and the International Fire Code (IFC) require most commercial buildings to use a fire alarm system. There are also specific requirements based on building type in addition to state, county, and municipal fire code requirements.

These factors create an effective fire alarm system

But how do you know which commercial fire alarm system best fits your business? Let’s take a quick look at the factors that matter most.

Remote monitoring

Not every alarm is backed by 24/7 expert monitoring support. But this is a crucial feature that will help you optimize fire protection and a fast response should a fire erupt.

In practice, having a monitored system means that when the alarm sounds, a professional alarm monitoring center will evaluate and notify the local fire department if needed. At the time of installation, your fire alarm support team can work with you to create a custom notification protocol to follow in the event of an emergency. A word of caution: beware of companies that outsource the monitoring to a third party. Make sure that the company you go with either monitors your alarms or uses a trusted third party.


Every second counts when a fire is about to break out. That’s why detection speed is so important. A monitored fire alarm system will alert emergency forces to a potential fire, sprinkler system activation, or gas leaks. If it can also identify the location of the burgeoning fire, it will make you better informed and equipped to respond.

Fewer unwanted alarms

Detection speed should not come at the expense of having a system that goes off indiscriminately. If the fire alarm system does a poor job of distinguishing between real emergencies and everyday interferences, you risk getting many unwanted alarms.

Most people have experienced an unwanted alarm and know how frustrating the experience can be. If it happens repeatedly, it is easy to take it less seriously. Unwanted alarms also cost money and waste everyone’s time, including the emergency response personnel if called to the scene.

Multiple warnings

What does it take to get people to realize danger and evacuate? Sometimes, it may require activating multiple human senses. For the visually or hearing impaired, it’s also important to use an alarm that offers several types of alerts, such as audio warnings paired with strobe lights.

Optimal coverage

Your needs and the fire code ultimately determine what type of commercial fire alarm system works best. A small office and a large warehouse have different requirements for fire protection and consequently demand different systems. Some systems cover several buildings, allowing to connect locations rather than investing in individual units.

Hopefully, this post has clarified the topic of smoke alarm systems and what type of fire protection your business needs. Have questions? Contact Bay Alarm today for a free consultation.

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