Douglas Krantz - Technical Writer - Describing How It Works

There are Too Many False Alarms in my Building

By Douglas Krantz | Residential

There are Too Many False Alarms in my Building

There are Too Many False Alarms in my Building

Greetings Douglas,

I am sorry, I got upset so I am moving out soon.

Many times, I've had the fire horn on the wall sound off in my room. And at night you can see the strobes flash out-side the building through the windows.

We usually get at least 15 alarms a month.

This is a big 5 story building. and last time I went downstairs for an alarm, there were 5 or 6 people that also went out for the alarm. This is dangerous.

The way I understand, it the smoke detectors in the rooms will not set off the horn strobes in the halls - the smoke detectors in the hallway will set off all the horn strobes in the building.

I was down there talking to a firefighter. He said that someone probably was smoking in their room. When he was leaving, I said the room smoke detector would not set off the horn strobes. He said they probably opened their door and the smoke into the hall.

If that was true, that would mean that every month a dozen people opened their hall door, setting off the fire alarm from cigarette smoking. That doesn't make sense because this is a no smoking building.

Everyone is desensitized to the fire alarms sounding off, I am too.

I am packed now, and in process of moving. I do, however, worry for others in the building, what happens if there really is a big fire?

Thank You, DR

There seems to be a lot of false alarms in that apartment building.

Separate Fire Alarm Systems

In apartment buildings, there are two different types of fire alarm system. These two systems are almost never connected to each other.

One system, the common area fire alarm system, which includes the pull stations smoke detectors in the hallways (not in the apartments). The common area fire alarm system also includes the horns and strobes in the hallways.

In the apartments, the mini-horns on the wall are only connected to the common area fire alarm system. Usually, the horns for the common area fire alarm system are not on the ceiling.

The common area system is a stand-alone fire alarm system. It is not set off by the smoke alarms inside the apartments. On the other hand, if smoke gets to a smoke detector in the hallway, this sets off the common area fire alarm system.

The other system in each apartment is a stand-alone smoke detector and sounder (smoke alarm). It's only in the apartment, and only makes noise in that apartment. It will not sound off in any other apartment. Each apartment has this type of stand-alone smoke alarm.

If there is cooking smoke inside an apartment, and a window is opened to air out the smoke, then the smoke harmlessly goes out the window.

On the other hand, I've had to investigate false alarms caused by cooking smoke. If an apartment is filled with cooking smoke, and the resident opens their hallway door to air out the smoke inside their apartment, the smoke out into the hallway. Once the smoke is out in the hallway, the smoke can set off a common area smoke detector, creating a false alarm.

Other Issues with False Alarms

As far as a resident smoking goes, I've almost never seen where cigarette smoking, even heavy smoking, set off a smoke detector or smoke alarm. I've even seen apartment smoke alarms that have been exposed to so much tobacco smoke that they are almost a dark yellow from the nicotine, but just because of the resident smoking in the room, the smoke alarms still haven't gone into false alarm.

As far as discussing the false alarm problems with the firefighters, keep in mind that the firefighters are very good at fighting fires, but not so good at figuring out all the possible causes of false alarms. As an example, the false alarms can be caused by failures in the electronics, and almost no firefighters have been trained in electronics.

The building owner or the building management should be the ones taking action to fix the fire alarm system, or, if the residents are letting cooking smoke into the hallways educate the residents. But, for one reason or another, the problem isn't always fixed.

On the other hand, the fire marshal is a representative of the government; what the fire marshal says is the law of the land. However, even with all of the false alarms, unless the fire marshal is willing to take action to get the apartment building owner to address and fix the excessive false alarms, there is not much that can be done.

Douglas Krantz
Life Safety
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