Know the Names and You’ll Be Ahead of the Game

There are need-to-know differences between fire alarm systems and the signaling services available for these kinds of systems as classified by NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code. NFPA 72 classifies fire alarm systems into Household Systems; Municipal/Public Fire Alarm Systems; Protected Premise (local) Systems; and Supervising Station Fire Alarm Systems.

Household (or “dwelling unit”) fire alarm warning devices are comprised of single station smoke alarms. These may be batterypowered only or AC powered with a dry cell battery backup. Even if interconnected to activate all sounders when any one of them goes into alarm, smoke alarms are not considered a “fire alarm system” since there isn’t a control panel involved.

Municipal fire systems are circuits and equipment-owned, operated- and maintained by municipalities

Protected Premises (local) commercial fire alarm systems do not report signals off premises and sound only locally. If signals are sent off premises, it automatically becomes one of the following, defined by the method used to send signals–Auxiliary, Proprietary, Central Station and Remote Supervising Station.

The Auxiliary fire alarm system uses the Municipal fire alarm system to transmit the protected premise’s signals to the remote supervising station–often the local fire department.

Proprietary Supervising Station systems are installed in buildings and structures that belong to one person or one company. These may be a national chain of stores or simply a group of protected buildings located on a single site (industrial park, campus, etc.).

Central Station Service fire alarm systems mean there is a listed “prime contractor” who has issued a UL certificate (or Factory Mutual placard) for the fire alarm system. NFPA 72 repeats most of UL’s Central Station requirements the contractor must follow in order to properly provide Central Station Service. For example, the contractor must provide runner service and the property owner must be under a written contract for scheduled tests and inspections.

Remote Supervising Station fire alarm systems are the most prevalent of installed fire systems and account for about 99 percent of monitored commercial alarms. The rules in NFPA 72 for Remote Supervising Station service have remained unchanged for many years. It is this standard that allows other entities to monitor fire alarm systems when the local fire department cannot or doesn’t want to perform the monitoring service.

Recently, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approved a new standard for this above-mentioned service. Written by the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA), ANSI approval gives it the same weight and authority as the ANSI approved service described in NFPA 72. This means it may be easily adopted by any national, state or local code authority. The NBFAA standard includes additional requirements for reliability, emergency lighting, on-site fire extinguishers, an automatic fire alarm system to be installed, automated recordkeeping (NFPA 72’s rules allow record keeping to be in the form of a pen and notebook), spare parts inventory, mandatory operator training and the physical security and protection of equipment and circuits. None of these are required under NFPA 72 for this service. If you too know of a local alarm company that monitors accounts from the basement of their private residence, then your local AHJ can now adopt a more comprehensive standard that will greatly and economically improve the safety of your community. Contact NBFAA at

Greg Kessinger, SET, CFPS, can be reached at or