Douglas Krantz - Technical Writer - Describing How It Works
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How do You Program Fire Alarm Systems?

Nowadays, most fire alarm panels can be programmed either using front panel buttons, or with the manufacturer's software. Because each make and model of fire alarm systems are different, the manufacturer's technical support should be consulted.

How do You Program Fire Alarm Systems?


How do You Program Fire Alarm Systems?


Greetings Douglas,

I'm a training and I'm learning fire alarm but I don't know nothing about the program and the structure on the computer .. Where can I find information?

Thank you, R A

To start with, all models of fire alarm system are programmed differently. I don't know of a single source of information that will cover all of them. Mostly the programming manuals for each model has to be consulted. The software is usually user friendly and self-explanatory.

Detect an Warn

The fire alarm system is a Detect Fire and Warn People of the Fire. The box-on-the-wall that gets programmed isn't the fire alarm system. The real fire alarm system is the detectors, pull stations, input switches, strobes, horns, and relays throughout the building. The Fire Alarm Control Panel (FACP), where most of the programming occurs, only controls the fire alarm system.

The program you create tells the FACP how to control the system. The software is basically plug-in descriptors for:
  • Input types
  • Output types
  • Alphanumeric strings to display for the firefighters
  • Housekeeping (like the name of the system and some global commands)
  • Internal rules (sequence of operation)

To know what to plug into the boxes, you'll need to know all about the building's fire alarm system.

Sequence of Operation

After plugging in the information about the inputs, outputs, and housekeeping, you will have to program the sequence of operation.

The actual method of programming a sequence of operation is going to vary wildly from one manufacturer to the next, and often varies wildly from one model to the next with the same manufacturer. You will have to read the programming instructions that come with the system you're working on.

Inside the panel, though, all of them boil down to a very simple statement.

When alarm device #xxx xxxx goes into alarm

The following output devices will turned on
  • Horns and strobes #yyy yyyy, zzz zzzz, mmm mmmm, qqq qqqq
  • Door holders #ppp pppp
  • Dampers #kkk kkkk
  • Air handlers #bbb bbbb

Inside the fire alarm panel, there is a rule just like this for each input device. Some panels have more steps in there, but the basic rule is still there.

The laptop will have an easier way to set up the sequence of operation, and then compile all of the sequences together for downloading the whole set of rules into the panel. However, because every model of fire alarm system seems to be different, the best I can say is "read the programming manual".

By Douglas Krantz Douglas Krantz Check It Out

Special Note About Messages

One of the boxes for each input and output is for messages; they're alphanumeric strings of characters. Each input and each output has one. The strings are for the firefighters, building management/maintenance people, and for service technicians to see what the panel is seeing.

Anytime the fire panel displays a device address number, the panel also displays the string.

The panel doesn't care if the string going with a particular address is "The glacier careened down the canyon" or the string is "Smoke 1st Floor by Apartment 101". As programmer, remember that it's you who are putting in the string of characters, that in an emergency, the firefighters are going to read.

These are often volunteer firefighters. They aren't going to understand AFA (stands for Automatic Fire Alarm - why not just say Smoke Detector?), or even RTU (Roof Top Unit - why not use words to say Roof Top HVAC?). In essence, if at all possible, use words that your sister will understand.

Explain where every device is located:
  • Start with the type of device: Smoke, Heat, Pull, Power Supply, Relay, Horn/Strobe Circuit
  • Next say what floor it's on
  • Follow it up with a specific location


"Pull 2nd Floor by North Stair" "Pwr Supply Garage Mech Rm"

It might be obvious to do this with alarm devices, but things like relays or power supplies also require good location information. Just saying "Relay" will mean that in a few years a technician will be muttering under the breath for hours, looking all over the building for a "Relay".

Douglas Krantz Douglas Krantz
Douglas Krantz -- Fire Alarm Engineering Technician, Electronic Designer, Electronic Technician, Writer
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