Douglas Krantz - Technical Writer - Describing How It Works
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Can the Fire Alarm Zones be for Multiple Floors?

A zone is where you send the fire department when there's a fire; a zone is where you send the building owner when there's a false alarm; a zone is where you send the fire alarm technician when there's a trouble with the system.

A zone on a fire alarm panel display is shown either with labeled lights -like

Greetings Douglas,

Thank you for all the posting on your knowledge on Fire Alarm Systems.

If I'm installing a fire alarm system in a 3 story plus basement building, can I apply a single zone for the entire building? Each floor of the building is only around 4000 square feet (around 371 square meters).

Or, if the zones are not allowed to cross floors, does this make 4 zones?

Thank you, A R

A zone on a fire alarm panel display is shown either with labeled lights (like "Basement", "1st Floor", "2nd Floor", "3rd Floor", Etc.) or with words on a graphic display.
  • A zone is where you are going to send the fire department when there's a fire
  • A zone is where you are going to send the building owners when there's a false alarm
  • A zone is where you are going to send the fire alarm technician when the system needs fixing

If the fire alarm system is an addressable system that uses words on the display, all the devices are shown as separate devices, each device is actually its own zone.

Examples:
  • Smoke 3rd Floor by 301
  • Pull 2nd Floor by North Stair
  • Sprinkler Waterflow Main
  • Sprinkler Tamper Basement South Stair
  • Duct Detector Roof Top HVAC

Remember, the fire alarm panel is only read by people during an emergency. Avoid acronyms like RTU (RTU stands for Roof Top Unit) and AFA (AFA stands for Automatic Fire Alarm - whatever that means for this installation). The people reading the display during an emergency, like a volunteer firefighter or building owner, are not trained in fire alarm abbreviations. These people are paying attention to what is going on and can't go looking up definitions.

If the system is conventional, zoning is determined by where the wires are going to be installed, and by the number of zones that the panel can show. If the panel is a 3 zone panel, that's your limitation; if the panel is a 5 zone panel, that's your limitation; if the panel is a 10 zone panel, that's your limitation.

The bottom line is that a Fire Zone isn't really determined by the fire alarm system; a Fire Zone is determined by the ability to fight fires, and by the ability to protect the occupants from fire and smoke.

Authority Having Jurisdiction

Because the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) is the person having final say over the fire alarm system, the AHJ should also be consulted. Most fire marshals and other AHJs are glad when they are asked ahead of time about things like this. Before talking to the fire marshal, just make sure you know what kind of fire alarm system you have (Addressable or Conventional) and if the panel is conventional, how big the panels is (how many input zones it has).

Douglas Krantz

Further Question

Mr. Krantz

Thank you for your quick response.

So. A zone should be designed around the idea of providing instant information for the most important people like firefighters, owners and technician and not determined by number of floors.

Thank you very much for the insight.

A R

Remember, though, that fire alarm installers like you and I aren't the ones to determine fire control zoning. Fire control zones are something that the responsible person, the one most concerned with fire-fighting and fire-safety (the fire marshal) decides.

Other Fire Alarm Zoning Considerations

Other factors in even a simple fire alarm system add more complication.

Verification

If the smoke detectors are verified, they need to be on separate fire alarm zones. Verification will delay alarms up to :30 seconds from devices like pull stations, heat detectors, and waterflow switches. For fire safety issues, any other devices like pull stations, heat detectors, and waterflow switches cannot have this verification delay.

Elevator

If there's an elevator, consult with the elevator company. You might even consider consulting with the elevator inspector, (the elevator company's AHJ or Authority Having Jurisdiction). There is always something extra to be concerned with, and knowing the extra issues ahead of time can help you in your fire alarm zoning decisions.
  • Because the elevator capture smoke detectors can't be verified
  • Because the rest of the building's fire alarm detectors, pull stations, and waterflow switches can't capture the elevator
  • Because each elevator lobby's smoke detector and the elevator machine room smoke detector still capture the elevator three different ways (depending on which elevator smoke detector goes into alarm), and each of these detectors have to be shown on the annunciator display separately
  • Because, if the elevator shaft and / or the elevator machine room is sprinklered, there has to be heat detectors included on a separate zone to shunt the elevator (turns off the power to the elevator so it stops where it's at)
  • Because the fire alarm system has to send signals to the elevator controls using three or four different output control zones

Everything, each elevator capture smoke detector and each output relay that sends signals from the fire alarm control panel to the elevator control panel, has to be on their own separate zones.

Fire Alarm Zoning

If there's fire alarm zoning, the fire alarm zoning should match the fire control zoning. However, even on small fire alarm systems, there are always other issues to be concerned with. That's why, even with smaller fire alarm systems, there is a trend to move away from conventional fire alarm systems and towards addressable fire alarm systems. Conventional fire alarm systems just don't have the number of input zones and number of output zones that addressable fire alarm systems have.

Douglas Krantz
Based on his electronics training, and his understanding of Life Safety, Douglas Krantz has compiled his knowledge of Conventional Fire Alarm Systems into the book Make It Work - Conventional Fire Alarms. The book covers the basics of the Conventional Fire Alarm System, and shows how Life Safety and internal supervision affects the fire alarm system.

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

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