Relax. Fire alarm panels are intuitive, multifunctional labor saving devices that allow custom programming and the ability to tailor the equipment to the facility. Electrical contractors can just hit the button with the advanced options fire alarm controls offer.

Driving much of the innovation in the industry are new codes and regulations as well as continued microprocessor and software developments.

With some 180 changes incorporated into the document slated to go into effect at the end of 2006, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Standard for Safety for Control Units and Accessories for Fire Alarm Systems, UL 864 Ninth Edition, is having a profound effect on fire alarm control panels and accessories. Manufacturers have been working for years to meet the deadline.

Some of the key changes include response time improvements, enhanced immunity to radio-frequency interference, better synchronization with notification appliances, greater software integrity and broadened programming requirements. In addition, the UL Ninth Edition includes updates in supervision, monitoring, compatibility and power transmission.

“There was extensive redevelopment by manufacturers in order to comply,” said Jim Kimpel, product manager, Gamewell-FCI, part of the Honeywell Life Safety Group, Westwood, Mass. “Fire alarm and emergency evacuation systems have to comply with UL Ninth Edition or the products can’t ship come the compliance date.”

The changes have resulted in a robust suite of fire alarm systems designed to do what they do best: save lives.

“Hardware, software and even power products have all changed as a result of this revised standard,” Kimpel said.

Many of the changes provide more intelligence overall. New software makes it easier for the end-user to verify alarms and gives fire authorities the ability to quickly assess the situation of occupants and their vulnerability and act appropriately. Supervision and maintenance features are more prominent than ever.

“Fire alarm systems are easier to understand and user interfaces lay out for the fire fighting professional exactly where to go,” said Jeff Hendrickson, director of marketing, Silent Knight, Maple Grove, Minn., part of the Honeywell Life Safety Group. “These systems are extremely flexible to use and easy to install. Maintenance with addressable systems is a ‘home run’ too.”

For example, Silent Knight’s newly designed addressable systems have built-in digital communicators/transmitters, which allow the installer to dial into the panel prior to a visit to check status and evaluate the necessary equipment to bring to the job.

“That reduces maintenance time, and when you have the right equipment, ... you’re at the job site a shorter period,” Hendrickson said.

The progression of addressable technology in addition to myriad UL changes continues smarten up fire alarm systems.

“Addressable panels have many features that make them intuitive, according to Nick Martello, director of marketing, Fire-Lite Alarms, Northford, Conn., also part of Honeywell Life Safety. “Auto program features, for example, automatically scan the installed detectors to ensure there are no duplicate addresses and each specific type of detector is reported back to the panel’s database where information is stored.”

Martello added that products have become easier to install than predecessor models several years ago.

“The latest versions include new common enclosures that feature more room and quick mounting or dismounting of electronics. Printed circuit boards are mounted on a metal chassis that can be removed and replaced with just two bolts. This allows the installer to mount the back box and pull and tag the wire while keeping the electronics safe in the box or in the truck.”

Electrical contractors handling fire alarm systems will find new products on the market are smarter than ever, which is a plus for installation and maintenance. EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.