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Control Equipment

The Fire Alarm Control Equipment should normally be sited in an area as follows:

Preferably in an area of low fire risk and on the ground floor by the entrance used by the Fire Brigade and preferably viewable from outside of the building.  It should be located in an area common to all building users and where automatic detection is in use, the Control Panel should be in a protected area.  An alarm sounder should be sited next to the Control Unit, but not too near the telephone position.

A suitable zone chart of the building should normally be installed adjacent to the Control Panel.

Power Supplies

Two power supplies are required ie: mains and battery and these are normally built into the Fire Alarm Control Panel.  Standby batteries must allow the system to operate without mains for 24 hours longer than the building is likely to be unoccupied and then support the sounders for an additional half hour.  If the mains supply is supported by an emergency generator then six hours standby plus half an hour alarm load is sufficient.  All modern Fire Alarm Systems are 24 volts.

On the medium and larger sized Fire Alarm Systems, the standby batteries will often not fit within the Control Panel.  Where standby batteries are contained within a separate housing, then this housing must be as close as possible to the main Fire Alarm Control Panel.  If the power supply or battery housing is located more than 10 metres from the main Fire Alarm Control Panel then serious volt drop problems can arise.  Standby batteries are invariably of the sealed lead acid variety.  Use of nickel Cadmium Batteries is not cost effective and automotive batteries must not be fitted.

Fire Compartments

Buildings are normally split into fire compartments with each compartment so constructed as to prevent the spread of fire from one compartment to another.

Each floor and each stairwell within a building is normally a separate fire compartment.  Within a small factory, the factory unit will normally be separated from the offices by >firewalls= to prevent the spread of smoke and fire from one to the other.  The factory and offices will therefore be in separate fire compartments.  A zone should normally only cover a single fire compartment.


If the total floor area (ie: the total of the floor areas of each floor of the building) is not greater than 300 square metres then the building need only be one zone, no matter how many floors it has.

In general, if the total floor area is greater than 300 square metres, then each floor should be a separate zone (or set of zones, if the floor is big enough).

There are two exceptions:

A If the building is sub divided into fire compartments, then any compartment communicating with other compartments only at the lowest level of the building can be treated as if it were a separate building ie: if a floor area is not greater than 300 square metres then it can all be one zone, irrespective of the number of storeys.
B Where stairwells or similar structures extend beyond one floor, but are in one fire compartment, the stairwell should be a separate zone.
There are two restrictions on the maximum size of a zone, irrespective of the size of the building
A Its total Floor area should not exceed 2000 square metres
B The search distance should not exceed 30 metres.  This means that a searcher entering the zone by the normal route should not have to travel more than 30 metres after entering the zone in order to see a fire big enough to operate a detector, even if the fire is only visible from the extreme end of his search path.  Remote indicators show an alarm in a closed area and their fitting can enable larger areas to comply to the search distance requirements.
There are two restrictions on the configuration of a zone, irrespective of its size.
A If the zone covers more than one fire compartment, then the zone boundaries should follow compartment boundaries
B If the building is spilt into several occupancies, then each occupancy should lie within a separate zone (or set of zones), no zone should be split between two occupancies

Recommended Cable Types

All cables used in Fire Alarms must have a minimum conductor size of 1.0mm squared.

BS5839 Part 1, recommends 11 types of cable which may be used on a Fire Alarm System where prolonged operation in a fire is not required.  Therefore 1.0mm twin and earth cable for instance, may be used on detection circuits of Conventional Fire Alarm Systems and the detection loops of Addressable and Analogue Systems providing sounders are not connected to them.

Only two types of cable may be used on Fire Alarm Circuits where prolonged operation in a fire is required.

1 Mineral - insulated copper - sheath cables (MICC) complying with BS6207
2 Cables complying with BS6387, and meeting at least the requirements of categories AWX or SWX
In other words, on sounder circuits and for wiring between a power supply and or battery housing and the main fire alarm control panel you must use one of the following types of cable.
MICC, Flamsil, Firetuff or similar

On Addressable and Analogue Addressable Fire Alarm Systems we would recommend the use of a screened cable such as BICC Flamsil or Firetuff or MICC for all wiring so as to minimise the possibility of interference being picked up by or being transmitted by the data loops.

In the larger buildings within the London area (old section 20 buildings) only bare MICC cable is often specified.

In summary therefore MICC cable used for all your fire alarm wiring would be acceptable anywhere.  However, ordinary twin and earth 1.0mm cable may be used on detection circuits of Conventional Systems in certain circumstances.

As far as possible, joints should be avoided except where a joint is inside one of the systems components ie: Control Panel, detector, Call Point, Sounder etc.  Where joints are required elsewhere they should be enclosed in a suitable junction box marked fire alarm to ensure that the fire alarm systems is not accidentally interfered with.

Fire Alarm Cables, should always be segregated from cables for other systems.  The segregation of MICC cables with a plastic sheath is of course not so critical as the segregation of ordinary twin and earth cable.

Installation of cables should be in accordance with good practices recommended in the latest edition of the IEE wiring regulations

Connection to the mains supply should be via an isolating switch fuse reserved solely for the purpose.  Its cover must be painted red and labelled A Fire Alarm - do not switch off@ .

Conductor size should take voltage drop into account.  In any case conductors should have a cross sectional area of not less than 1 square millimetre.

Where possible cables should be routed through areas of low fire risk.  Cables installed in damp, corrosive or underground locations should be PVC sheathed and where there is a risk of mechanical damage should be protected accordingly.  If Cables are installed less than 2.25m above the floor should they normally be protected.

Volt Drop in Cables

Unless a detection circuit or detector loop exceeds 1 kilometre in length, it is unlikely to give rise to a concern about volt drop.

If there are fairly long sounder circuits or a sounder circuit has a large number of Sounders, Buzzers, Voice Alarms or Flashing Beacons etc on it, then voltage drops can cause problems.  Providing the overall volt drop does not exceed 4 volts on sounder circuits then the system should operate satisfactorily. 

The calculation of the precise voltage drop at each point in the system is a long and tedious calculation and way beyond the scope of this guide.  However, to get a rough idea as to whether a system will operate satisfactorily one can use the following calculations.

To start with we need to know approximate volt drop characteristic of different sizes of cable

1.0mm cable = 42mV per amp per metre

1.5mm cable = 28mV per amp per metre

2.5mm cable = 17mV per amp per metre

4.0mm cable = 10mV per amp per metre

6.0mm cable =   7mV per amp per metre

If one is using 1.0mm cable

Multiply 42 by the length of the cable in metres
Multiply this by the current of all the devices on the length of the cable
Divide the entire figure by 1000

This gives a rough idea of the voltage drop.

Lets take an example where you have 30 Sounders, each with a current consumption of 20mA on 200 metres of 1.0mm cable.

If you were to wire in 1.0mm cable then the calculations would look something like this:

42 x 200 metres x 30 sounders x 0.02 amps

The answer is 5.04 volts.  This is more than the 4 volts previously discussed and therefore we would suggest that 1.0mm cable would be unsuitable in this instance.

Lets now try the calculation using 2.5mm cable. In this instance we have the following:

17 x 200 metres x 30 sounders x 0.02amps

The answer is 2.04 volts.  A two volt drop is of course acceptable.

Should you be on a budget and be considering using 1.5mm cable, the answer after making the calculation would be 3.36 volts and this is indeed acceptable.  However do not disclaim the possibility that at a later date you may wish to add extra sounders, and therefore you would be pushing the system to its full limitations by utilising the 1.5mm cable.

You may encounter examples where even 2.5mm cable is not sufficient.  Rather than use a larger cable which would be extremely difficult to terminate in the rear of most sounders, it is usually better to run additional sounder circuits and spread the load.

Should you be using a remote power supply or battery housing to power the control panel, then the voltage drop becomes very significant.  As well as the consumption of the Control Panel, one must consider the operating load of the sounders.  It is particularly important to keep voltage drop as low as possible and preferably below 1 volt or power levels will decrease even before you have commenced consideration regarding the calculation of the volt drop to the sounders from the control panel.

An example of this now follows.

We have a control panel which consumes 260ma and has a number of sounders connected, which in total use 3amps in the alarm condition.  If you wired between the remote power supply and the control panel which was only 20 metres away in 1.0mm cable then the calculation would be as follows:

42 x 20 metres x 3.26 amps = 2.7 volt drop

This would clearly be unacceptable.

Should we be able to locate the remote power supply within 10 metres of the control panel and wire it in 2.5mm cable the calculations should look as so:

17 x 10 metres x 3.26 amps = just over half a volt

The above example should be acceptable.  However when calculating the volt drop on your sounder circuits it would be advisable not to allow any volt drop to exceed 3.5 volts.

A word of warning however, the writer of this guide has seen several examples where electricians have installed cable that is too thin on sounder circuits and consequently the system has encountered substantial volt drops ie: in excess of 12.  A way around this has then been sought and the 24 volt bells have been substituted with 12 volt bells.  This does not work, as if you lower the voltage the current increases and so the problem gets worse.

Routine Testing of the System

The system should be regularly tested and serviced and BS5839 Part 1 makes the following recommendations:

DAILY Check that the panel indicates normal operation.  If not record any fault indicated in the event log and report the fault to a responsible person.  Check that any fault recorded from the previous day has received attention.
WEEKLY Operate a manual call point or smoke detector to ensure the system operates properly.  Each week a different detector or call point should be checked.  Check that the sounders have operated and then reset the system.  Check the battery connection.  Any defect should be recorded in the log book and reported.  Action should be taken to correct the defect.
QUARTERLY  Check entries in the log book and take any necessary action.  Examine the batteries and their connections.  Operate a manual call point and smoke detector in each zone to ensure that the system operates properly.  Check that all sounders are operating.  Check that all functions of the alarm control panel operate by simulating fault conditions.  Visually check that structural alterations have not been made that could have an effect on the siting of detectors and other trigger devices.  Complete the event log with details of the date, time, trigger device tested and > Quarterly Test= in the event section.  Any defects or alterations to the equipment should also be entered
ANNUALLY Carry out an inspection as detailed for this quarterly inspection.  Every detector should be tested in site.  All cable fitting and equipment should be checked to ensure that they are secure and undamaged.

A qualified engineer should carry out the quarterly and annual inspections and issue a certificate after each annual inspection.  It is normal practice for 1/4 of all detection systems to be cleaned and checked on each quarterly visit so that the entire system has been properly maintained after the fourth visit.

Whilst the end user of the fire alarm system may be expected to carry out the daily and weekly functions very few would be adequately equipped or trained to carry out the quarterly and annual tests.

Photain Controls plc would be please to submit a price for the maintenance of any Fire Alarm System which has been installed using Photain Fire Alarm Equipment.

The intention of this guide is to keep the information given as simple as possible. 
This necessitates the omission of much information contained within the various British Standards and the requirement of the various fire acts. 
Photain Controls can therefore not take any responsibility for the way in which any information contained in this guide is used.



[1]     If you extend or change a property, you probably need a new or revised certificate
[2]    With wiring type 1 and 2 as detailed above, the amount of cable required will most probably be increased and will raise the cost of the installation.  In addition if the first detector unit is removed then none of the following devices would be operative.  This restriction would not apply to Type 3 as detailed
3 BS5839 Part 1 Section 7.2 dictates this loss to be a maximum of 2000 square metres of area protected -See section 7 on pages 11 - 12  of  BS5839 for further details
[4] This is a British Standards Requirement
[5] Preferably on Exit Routes

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