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What is your SOP when responding to an automatic alarm, smoke or sprinkler?
What information do you get from the alarm panel?
What additional information do you need and how do you get it?

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We run one engine on automatic alarms, unless it's a school or church. The engine responds to the alarm panel, per our SOG'S. Most of the newer alarm panels will give an exact location in the store or business, some of the older ones are like looking at a puzzle. Obviously, if anything is showing the alarm is upgraded to a full first alarm, 5 companies, 4 engines and a quint. Normally, we can get any further information through store security, management, employees, or it's up to the engine company to attempt to locate the problem. We are in all businesses in town(4sq.mi.) twice a year. once for pre-planning and once for inspections, which helps refresh our knowledge.

Stay Safe
We run one company on residential alarm soundings and two companies on commerical alarm soundings. On residential contact is made with the resident and investigated to make sure "dry cooking" is just that. Commercial alarms typically result in the second company getting called off. The panel is checked and either by zone identification or a maintenance person, the trouble area is checked and the alarm reset.

We like to get the name and title of the contact person and alarm company rep. if applicable, especially if an alarm is being worked on or needs to be taken OOS for repair. This gives us a person we can refer to that information was passed along while we were there.

Water flow alarms are handled in a similar manner but result in a full first alarm assignment. The source of the water flow is identified and at least attempted to be fixed. The sprinkler company is contacted immediately and we want some confirmation as to when the system will be fully functional again and if it down, when? and for how long?
-Chief, I think that the contributions to this discussion are going to be as varied as the American fire service is from region to region.
-In a sense, responses are going to be tailored to the type of occupancy as well as what type of resources the individual FD has available as well as the human assets in place; i.e. career, volunteer, combination, response type available... etc.
-Like many larger departments, the City of Albuquerque Fire Dept. has many types of responses and varying levels of equipment assigned to activated alarms. These include everything from a single engine response all the way up to a first alarm assignment.
-The common denominator in all instances is the assigning of a member, by SOP, to locating and controlling the fire alarm panel and obtaining as much information as possible from this location. This includes the exact location of the alarm, any contact information for responsible parties, the location of pre-incident plans such as in a hotel, the type of alarm (smoke, water flow or fire) any audible notification including spoke announcement and the silencing thereof if necessary.
-Personnel should be trained in operating and silencing alarms. Completely resetting the alarm is another issue that some municipalities shy away from because of the litigious concerns of our sue happy society. But again, this will change between jurisdictions.
Normally we treat every alarm as a structure fire until someone on scene notifies us otherwise. Even if the alarm company cancels us while enroute we continue in non-emergency, of course, to verify there is no problem or hazard.
From the alarm panel I expect to get the location and device address that is in alarm, this allows us to verify the location by reading the address on the device ( most of them are labelled). We try to have the building owner leave a business card with any important information and the alarm codes in the Knox box so that we can reset the alarm if needed with out having to wait on them to arrive on scene. Most of our alarm calls are smoke dectectors activated by dust or they are faulty. Or dry systems that have some type of problem with the air compressor or they were not drained properly and crack from freezing, normally just enough to cause the system to loose air.
Our responses for activated alarms are like most on here a 1 engine response. My city has a lot of older structures and the panels are as old as the building and not very descriptive thereby taking a little detective work. I have advocated for a 1 and 1 response but has not taken hold. As far as the information, we have call sheets of keyholders in a data base that we use to contact owners.
The trend in this area is begining to be code 1 for automatic alarms, we will still be code 3 because we have been bit in the rear before. We do send a single unit who goes to the panel to see what and where the problem is. We also investigate the area of the activation even if the staff says its bs, just to be safe!
Hey Chief...coming from a variety of firefighting backgrounds, mostly Federal/Military with a several years volunteer mixed in along the way, gives a person a fair prospective on FACPs. In the Fed system we have just about every buildiing covered by smoke and heat detectors and many are also sprinklered at least here on my post. We are in a continuous battle to get systems in place and also to install sprinklers in new and renovated buildings. A majority of our AFA's are for dormitories and commercial structures. Military housing has smoke and heat detectors installed but not on a direct link to our dispatch center. Housing responses rely on information gathered directly from the caller and then checked against the dispatch protocols.

Our typical response for alarms in commercial and dormitories for a detector in "Pre-Alarm" is a single Engine company, Alpha response. If two or more detectors are activated or a sprinkler activation occurs then it becomes a Delta or higher response sending two Engine companies, and a Batt Chief. Known fire sends everyone to include the Asst. Chief, yet another Engine company and also Crash crew cross manning the Truck and the ambulance crew.

The information we get from the FACP depends on the type of detectors installed which send the signal to the particular type of panel and then on to the dispatch center and from there, the dispatcher receives it and sends the appropriate call out. A lot of times the question is "where is the panels location" which are often hidden out of sight in the older buildings. If it is a newer upgraded FACP we get smoke percentage and exact location of detectors initiated and under normal the detectors will blink and go solid in alarm. The panel in the building itself will give location if it is upgraded and or newer. In older systems it just gives a general location and just give you a specific numeric number for the detector in alarm and you need a schematic from the panel to look it up and find it's location or just start pulling detectors like I talked about earlier to find the right one.

Additional infrmation may come from experienced personnel in our department who know about the systems and are familiar with how they operate. Some questions are common sense and others are of concern especially when you have a system in a building that is a pre-action or a deluge for a hangar or a highly sensitive area and to avoid the risk of setting the system off, you have to follow certainstep by step procedures. Many a time we have washed aircraft by mistake when they are in various stages or repair...not good PR from the commander on those situations.

If I think of anything else I will jump in.

I know it sounds wierd but everyone knows the feds never do anything easy or for that matter anything that makes sense...LOL
We always reset our alarms on scene and also we can have them do it remotely from the dispatch center on certain system panels. Usually we leave the system in alarm and the bells/strobes ringing until we find the problem...seems like people don't like to evacuate. So we do the fireman psycological warfare till they all leave the building. If we arrive and find it's accidental we usually silence it right away or if it's in a daycare or a school. If we find problems as to where the system won't reset we have alarm technicians who can come in on overtime or it can waite till the next day to be looked at.

We have given a few classes but it is pretty much a hands on watch a seasoned guy and learn from them. In my role, I deal with them generally on a daily basis and it's part of my job to know the systems. We conduct alarm testing and acceptance testing on newly installed systems. It's great knowing how they operate and to be able to share that with others.
I wasn't saying you didn't know about them. Most fireman know almost as much about alarm panels as the people who install them. You have to understand that because we work for the Federal Government and DOD, it's totally different than in the municipal departments. Every building here is owned or leased by the Army to another agency through them and that's who we work for and since we work on a military installation the FD is the AHJ. So we are in a sense looking after our own property when an alarm sounds in a building and we respond and then reset the system after we have determined that the building is fire safe. Believe me there have been problems for sure, but it's not a reason to be gun shy...I totally understand yours and many of the other departments issues of not wanting to take the liability, who would? For us it's our building and we have control of it from the time we enter till we leave it and the cops come and back us up to make sure we have no problems.
No worries's all good. In all my years I've learned not to usually sweat the small stuff off the fire ground!
To reply to the question about resetting panels and alarms, my department does. We receive no trainig per se other than on OJT. I personally don't agree with it but it's writen policy. I like what Boston does ... get someone there (from alarm company) within 2 hours to fix it. In this litigious society and if something happens I would rather have an alarm company fix their equipment.
Single engine response at emergency speed until/unless more information available, then upgrade to tactical/full box as needed or downgrade to reduced speed. Type of alarm (smoke/heat/water flow) does not influence response until on scene.

On scene - Ideally proceed to panel first, ID zone of alarm. (Hopefully it's newer and reads location in plain english, instead of idiot lights saying "Zone 2" is in alarm, and no info about WTF zone 2 is.) We then of course proceed to location of activation and check area. Less ideal - no access to building (eg., store closed for night) - Check exterior for signs of smoke or fire, nothing visible, advise dispatch of same. Also less ideal - alarm/panel reset prior to our arrival - determine who reset, why, what they saw on panel, etc. Investigate as fully as possible and educate person(s) not to reset prior to our arrival.

We typically do not reset but rather prefer to be present while building personnel reset if on scene - mainly to ensure we're not getting sent out for the same thing again. Most alarm responses are to buildings with 24 hour presence of security/engineer/someone. Upon ensuring there is no immmediate danger, we call for building personnel to silence alarm while we try to determine exact cause. Upon such determination, we then ask them to reset. If faulty and cannot be repaired/reset immediately, building management must set up a firewatch until it is repaired.

Additional information is available through our VBI's (Vital Building Information sheets). At least one page document with emergency contact info, basic building info, special hazards, location/types of sprinklers/standpipes, utility shutoff locations, etc. On back is basic diagram of building with locations of elevators, utilities, fire towers, FDC, etc. May include much more detailed info esp. for hazmat info, disabled or assistance-needed occupants, etc. They're prepared for every building with automatic fire protection, be it standpipes, sprinklers, alarms, whatever. Carried in binders for all first-in and second-in buildings, we're up to at least (6) 3-4" binders so far. Eventually the budget will allow us to get these in a toughbook/MDT format and a heckuva lot more room on the truck...

(Background - my local is downtown section of major city, everything from skyscrapers to 2 story rowhomes which may/not be divided to apartments, with automatic alarms in it seems most every building in the local)

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