Grill The Fire Expert

Methods for Tying Systems Together
I am installing fire alarm systems in six adult group homes. The buildings are 75 feet apart, side-by-side, in a half circle. How can I have one monitoring account (one dialer) and six fire alarm systems? - Gus

A: This is possible, since the property is under one ownership. However, using six independent fire alarm panels with each home having its own zones (house #1 reports as zones 1 through 4, house #2 reports as zones 5 through 8, etc.) won't meet NFPA 72 rules because each home (system) still has to send a supervised daily test signal. If you had this arrangement with the customer data entered as one account (one system with 24 zones), the central station software would not look for more than one test signal each night, when in fact, six would be required.

Method One. Each of five homes would have a one-zone (or more, if desired) control panel, without a communicator. In one of the homes, you would install a "master" control panel that picks up the alarm and trouble contacts in each of the other five panels, and this "master" control panel would report to the remote central station. At this master panel, the other five houses have their zones programmed as silent (no alarm output), since the master control panel's house shouldn't evacuate its residents when any one of the other five houses has an alarm. And don't even consider having a common alarm notification circuit for all six homes.

Method Two. Consider using this master control panel as a dialer only, and each of the six houses has their own dedicated fire alarm sub-panel.

A downside with both methods is that the master control panel would also have to be reset after resetting the originating home's fire alarm control panel, after an actuation. Therefore, the master unit, or its annunciator/control keypad, must be accessible to any responding emergency authorities, but protected from unauthorized use.

Hopefully, one of the homes has an office that serves the entire group; maybe even with its own outside entrance. A "Knox Box" can be used by the fire department to gain access to any locked office or locked utility room to access the master control unit.

Method Three. Use a master control that can be programmed as if it were six separate systems (areas), each with its own control-keypad. The six addressable notification appliance circuit relays and the cost of NAC power boosters would have to be factored into this decision.

You realize you will be running wiring to each unit. You must also install lightning arrestors (see NFPA 72) on each fire alarm circuit running to and from each home, plus follow the other NEC rules for outdoor wiring. Using an addressable master control panel would be the best choice.

Good Idea Department. You may want to plainly mark each building with its street address or unit letter. A flashing outdoor-rated strobe on the front of each unit might also be a good idea.

Don't overdo the audible notification appliances. Don't even use strobe lights, if you don't have to. These particular occupants may not all react well to the commotion created by loud noises and flashing lights. The decision to apply ADA rules should only be made by the property owner who might request strobe placement for a specific hearing-impaired individual. Lastly, attend their first couple of fire drills.

Greg Kessinger, SET, CFPS, president of an alarm installing company since 1981, teaches NICET training classes to fire alarm system designers and installers and continuing education seminars for Ohio's fire alarm inspectors. You can reach Greg Kessinger at 888-910-2272; e-mail:; or visit his website at