The historical development of building site fire alarms

Of all the fire safety products on the market, reliable fire alarms are the critical first step in alerting people of the danger and saving lives in the event of a fire.

The law in the UK stipulates that every business must have an appropriate fire detection system in place. For those operating in the construction and building industry, the HSE has published a Fire Safety in Construction guide that sets out how those involved in construction projects can comply with their legal duties relating to fire risks.

The history of the fire alarm

The technology involved in modern systems may be complex, but the concept is simple – automatic smoke or heat detectors which trigger an alarm response and sound an alarm to notify people of the danger.

Modern systems have come a long way since the days of watchmen ringing bells to warn the local community of fire. When Dr.William F. Channing (supported by Moses G. Farmer) adapted the principle of the telegraph to develop the first city-wide telegraph fire alarm system in Boston, US in the 1850’s, it was the start of a series of technological developments that would help protect property and save lives. Channing and Farmer’s revolutionary fire alarm telegraph system enabled communication between a series of telegraph alarm boxes and a central alarm station. Each box had its own signal, enabling the central office to identify the location of the incident –  though as the system was not automated, it relied on an individual to trigger the alarm to summon help.

Early experiments with heat and smoke detectors paved the way for automated fire alarm systems. The first smoke detector was invented by accident in the late 1930s when Swiss physicist Walter Jaeger was attempting to design a sensor that could identify poison gas. It was only when he lit a cigarette and the smoke triggered the alarm that he discovered his invention could detect smoke particles.

Jaeger’s accidental discovery ultimately led to the first commercially available smoke detectors. Large and expensive, they were first used in the 1950s to protect commercial and industrial property. As technology advanced, fire alarms soon became more commercially viable and suitable for residential use.  

Technological advances also enabled fire alarm systems to work wirelessly and use a range of communication technology (such as cellular transmitters, private radio systems and digital communicator systems) to send a fire alarm signal direct to the nearest fire service to request firefighting support.

What types of fire detection does my business need?

The type of fire alarm detector/s that each business requires will be determined by (amongst other factors), the size and structure of your property, the property use, and the nature of the works carried out on the premises.

Conventional Fire Alarms

Conventional fire alarms are based on a zone system which helps fire responders identify the zone, or the area of the property that the fire is present.

Call points and detectors are wired throughout the property to the fire alarm control panel in zones. Should a fire be detected, either by a smoke detector or by someone triggering a ‘break glass’ alarm, a message will be transmitted to the LED control panel which will identify the ‘problem’ zone. The precision of pinpointing the exact location of a fire will depend upon the number of zones a property is segmented into.

The control panel is typically also wired to alarms such as bells to trigger an audible alert and initiate an evacuation.

Addressable Fire Alarms

This type of system gives a much more precise indicator of the fire’s location, thanks to individual addresses associated with each individual heat or smoke detector / break glass panel. When one is activated, the fire alarm system control panel identifies the exact location of the problem, as well as sounding the audible alarm.

Analogue Addressable Fire Alarm Systems

Often known as Intelligent Fire Alarm Systems, detectors on analogue addressable fire alarm systems contain their own computer which assesses the environment and communicates to the control panel whether the trigger is due to a fire or detector fault. It’s a much more complex system than traditional addressable fire alarms and its purpose is to prevent false alarms.

Wireless Fire Alarms

Using secure, licence-free radio communications to transmit information between sensors and detectors, and the control panel, wireless fire alarms provide all the benefits of traditional wired fire alarm systems – without the cables.

Available Systems From Bull Products

At Bull we supply a range of fire alarms and detectors to the construction industry, from industry standard wireless alarms, bells and horns, to smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, to our flagship Cygnus Wireless Alarm System. The Cygnus Wireless Alarm System, manufactured by Bull Products, is a major innovation in wireless emergency fire, first aid, and intruder alarms for construction sites.

CE compliant, the Cygnus system connects on a category 1 radio frequency. It’s made up of various devices, including fire alarm call points, heat and smoke detectors, first aid alert points and an optional control panel, which captures and displays data from the different devices for quick and easy identification of emergency situations.

Suitable for large scale developments, the Cygnus system is able to link 480 individual units in 15 different zones.

Rigorously tested to offer the ultimate in performance and reliability, the Cygnus system has raised the bar in the industry and is the most successful and adaptable temporary fire alarm system for use in the construction industry.

Specialist advice from the industry experts

At Bull, we supply the building and construction industry with purpose-made, reliable, specialist fire protection and safety equipment.

We pride ourselves on the expertise we give to help businesses meet their legal fire safety obligations. We are always happy to discuss the options available and how our products and services can help meet the needs of individual businesses.


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