Fire alarm control panels perform a wide range of life-saving and property-protecting tasks. Some activate fire suppression or fire sprinkler systems, while others don’t; some transmit a signal used to alert first responders, while others simply sound alarms in or around the building. Every fire panel acts as a middleman between devices that watch for hazards and devices tasked with alerting people to danger.
Here’s how that works: when a fire starts, a smoke detector, heat detector, hand-activated pull switch, or manual call point sends a signal to a fire panel. Fire sprinkler systems equipped with a flow switch – an electro-mechanical device activated by water flow – can also transmit a signal to the panel when water begins to flow through an activated sprinkler system.
The fire alarm control panel responds to any of these signals by lighting up or making noise, activating local bells or other signals, and/or sending a signal to fire officials or a private monitoring company tasked with notifying the authorities.
Many of these panels aren’t equipped to activate or send water to fire sprinkler heads, which usually activate locally, one by one in response to rising ambient temperatures. However, panels installed with some deluge sprinkler systems, for example, can open or close a deluge valve, which allows fire suppressant to be distributed to many sprinkler heads simultaneously. Panels for fire alarm systems in some facilities go even further, locking or unlocking doors, disabling elevators, turning off the electricity, or shutting off or turning on ventilation.
Fire panels can also be integrated with building management systems and security systems. In these cases, the functions of a fire panel take priority over the other systems and “the other systems cannot interfere with the operation of the fire alarm.” For example, if an access control system locks down certain outer doors in a building due to an external security threat, that command would need to be overridden in the event of a fire evacuation. The below video shows doors and horizontal fire shutters that close automatically in a fire emergency; in this case, access control and fire safety systems should be integrated.