Residential Care Home Addressable Fire Alarm

Addressable Fire Alarms are now the preferred option for the following types of properties: Residential, Nursing and Care homes

The latest amendments to the fire code have seen a need to focus on the fire alarm systems within Residential Care homes, Nursing homes, or buildings where the occupants would need assistance to evacuate the building in the event of a fire. In the latest version of the fire alarm design code BS5839-1:2013, it is very clear and states that for such properties with a sleeping capacity beyond ten people, the fire alarm system should be addressable.

Conventional fire Alarms will need to be upgraded

With the huge increase in Residential Care homes, nursing homes assisted living and buildings of this nature, plus the fire tragedy of the fourteen fatalities at the Rosepark Care Home in 2004, the revised fire code appears to have focused its attention on these types of properties. People living within such properties are vulnerable due to ill health or age, and would usually require assistance if they had to evacuate the property. In many cases due to the limited amount of staff on a night shift and such is the health condition of the occupants, that an evacuation policy is not the preferred option. What is commonly used is a “stayed Put” policy. On hearing the fire alarm the residents are told to stay in their rooms until the fire and rescue service arrives. If the fire has started in an occupied zone compartment, the staff will relocate only the residents affected in that zone. Therefore, providing the management of these establishments and the fire and rescue service the maximum amount of time to deal with a fire alarm activation is crucial.

Why an Addressable fire alarm system?

In simple terms, an addressable system enables the user or rescue service, to quickly and easily identify the exact location of an activated detector or manual call point.

What is the difference between an Addressable and Conventional Fire Alarm System?

In the fire alarm market, there are two types of system, you have the basic and cheaper type of system, known within the fire industry as a “Conventional” and the more advanced and some would call intelligent and is known as an “Addressable” fire alarm system.

Conventional Fire Alarm System.

A conventional system is usually used in small applications, say, about no more than fifty detectors. The only remaining advantage of a conventional fire alarm system is that it is cheaper than the addressable. However, even this advantage is being rapidly diminished as the cost of electronic equipment with microprocessing capability is reducing all the time.

Back in the eighties until early two thousand, the cost between a conventional and an addressable system was considerable. Therefore, when designing a system where the budget was an important factor, a conventional system would be specified.

However, the big disadvantage of a conventional system is the limited amount of information displayed at the fire alarm control panel in the event of a fire. The user would only receive an indication from the panel as to what part of the building the activation had occurred. For example, this could be Fire “first floor or “North Stairwell”, on the limited information provided; the user would have to search the fire zone to locate the fire or the cause of the activation within that area. Having to search the fire zone to establish the cause of the fire activation adds to the time to discover whether it is a real fire emergency.

Addressable Fire Alarm System

An Addressable fire alarm is called an “Addressable” due to its ability to give each device on the system a unique identification address, usually in the form of a number and this number is then tagged with a text identification label. A typical example would be “Managers Office Grd floor” or “Boiler Room 2nd floor”. The majority of Addressable systems provide you with a limit of up to 40 characters. This information would be clearly displayed at the front of the panel. The benefits of having a readable text identification message, rather than just an area of the building allows the user to identify the location straight away and save a great deal of time in the event of a fire emergency.

Is Staff trained Adequately to use the Fire Alarm system? Especially Addressable?

Whether the fire alarm is conventional or addressable, one thing I have observed when visiting these types of establishments over the years, is the staff working or managing residential homes, do not always understand the operation of the fire alarm system. This could be due to lack of training, limited staff on duty, new staff that has not been in the job long or maybe agency staffs which are only working at the home on a temporary basis. Therefore, not only is there a need to improve the fire alarm to an addressable, but staff and management need to be trained regularly on how to use the fire alarm system and what is the fire strategy in the event of a fire activation.

Weekly Fire Alarm Testing

One way to stay familiar with the fire alarm and provide new or existing staff with on-going training, is to go through the fire strategy during the weekly fire alarm test. Addressable fire alarm systems are in some ways a little more complex, as there are usually more options to choose. The purpose of the weekly test, is to ensure the fire alarm is operational; however, this is a convenient time to familiarise yourself or new staff as to what to expect and what to do, if the fire alarm should activate during the course of their shift. A good idea is to have a procedure list next to the fire alarm panel and this can be followed when carrying out the weekly fire alarm test.

Automatic signalling of the Fire Alarm to the Fire and Rescue Service.

Another area of concern that was addressed in the fire code amendment for 2013, is that the Fire Alarm should automatically summon the Fire and Rescue Services in Residential Care Homes.

Out of the tragic story of the Rosepark care home fire, it was stated that there were inadequate arrangements for calling the fire brigade. Had the fire brigade been called sooner, at least four lives could have been saved. Therefore, the amendments to the latest fire code recommend Residential Care homes, nursing homes, or buildings where the occupants would need assistance to evacuate, the fire alarm should automatically call the fire brigade. Furthermore, it states the fire strategy for the property should not incorporate any time delay in calling the fire brigade; however, the Sounders to the alarm system may incorporate a delay, as long as the staff area are aware that the fire alarm has activated.

Most care homes have some sort of monitoring that goes back to a call monitoring centre. The systems I have come across is either Tunstall or Initial. Within each apartment, there is a base station with a pull cord facility. Within this base station is usually a facility to wire in a smoke alarm. In the event of a fire alarm activation within the flat, the monitored smoke alarm will provide detection and alert for the resident and inform the monitoring station of the incident.

Upgrading a Conventional to an Addressable Fire Alarm System.

You may be in a position that your current fire alarm is in a state of disrepair or due to the latest fire code amendments for Residential Care Homes, an addressable fire alarm system is now going to be required. The question you may ask, is can I upgrade or utilise some parts of my existing system? Well, if the wiring is in good condition, then yes is the answer. A competent fire alarm company should be able to keep all the existing wiring and sounders (if they are on their own circuits) and only replace the detection and manual call points. This should help to keep down the cost of the upgrade.

Wireless Fire alarms easy to install in Residential Care homes

All compliant wireless fire alarms in the UK market are addressable, and in many cases would be an ideal solution for residential care homes, nursing homes, assisted living or similar applications. Upgrading an old fire alarm in these types of properties can be difficult, due to the noise created and inconvenience of drilling and running cables in a building where the residents could be elderly or not in good health. In some instances, access to the resident’s room can be an issue. However, we have over many an issue of this sort by installing a wireless fire alarm system. The speed at which a wireless system can be installed is quite remarkable. Furthermore, access to any area is only required for a very short space of time, and due to no installation of wires and containment, the disruption to the every running of the care home is minimal.

Fire Alarm Maintenance in Residential Care Homes

Ensuring that your fire alarm is fully operational at all times is very important, especially if you have the legal responsibility to provide a safe environment for the people within your care. As you would have of observed within this post, due to the vulnerable nature of the occupants in Residential Care Homes, Nursing homes, assisted living and sheltered accommodation, time is critical. Therefore, not only is it important you have the correct type of fire alarm installed, but it is in good working order, and you have all the required maintenance inspection visits on file, in case you have a fire incident or an inspection by the fire authorities.

If you require any further information regarding fire alarms in Residential Care Homes, Nursing Homes, Assisted living or sheltered housing, why not call our office on 020 8541 5646 or visit our website at and complete our contact page.