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There is more to maintaining fire alarm systems than you might initially think, says The FIA. There is much more to maintenance than simply testing the system to see if it works. False alarms – and the reasons behind them – can be particularly tricky to solve.
Additionally, fire detection and alarm system maintainers must be able to closely examine the equipment and solve a range of specific faults, which may arise from any number of reasons. False alarms, for example, could be caused by incorrect placement of the detectors, or using the incorrect type of detector for the environment it is placed in.
Maintainers of fire alarm systems need to have an excellent knowledge of both the products and their usage, and the relevant British Standards, as these will act as a guide for testing procedures and fault finding.
If you plan to work in the fire detection and alarm sector, it is also important to know about the associated documentation, such as log books, as fitted diagrams, operation and maintenance manuals, zone plans and how to complete the relevant maintenance certification. All of these will have an impact on the work that you do and the work that you plan to do in the future.
For example, studying the log book may help you see patterns in any faults appearing in the system or false or unwanted alarms. If, for example, the log book shows that a particular zone light on the panel turns on, indicating that a certain detector keeps activating every day at 12pm, you might be able to surmise that the issue may be caused by people cooking lunch in the building, and therefore would be able to check the type and placement of the detector to avoid accidental activation by steam or heat from the kitchen.
Another example might be that the log book reveals that the alarm activates every Tuesday at 10am. If, for sake of argument, the building was a school, the technician could ask to see the school’s timetable to find out what lessons are taking place at 10am. This might provide some clues as to the reasons behind the unwanted alarm – perhaps PE is taking place and the students are spraying aerosols near the detectors, or perhaps fumes from a science lesson are the cause, or perhaps it is a malicious activation in a particular corridor where some unruly students are left unsupervised as they go to their next class.
In addition to finding the cause, maintenance technicians need to have sufficient technical knowledge of the tools and equipment that they work with, to be able to use the equipment correctly and to ensure that they use the right tool for the job. They also need to be aware of the different types of system that they will be faced with, so that they can confirm if the system is faulty or if it is operating correctly.
Many of the above things will be learned through experience and on the job training. However, certain things such as having a strong knowledge of the relevant standards (BS 5839 Parts 1, 6, 8 & 9/IS 3218/BS 6266 for those that want to know), understanding and applying waste management regulations (also essential for a fire detection and alarm maintenance role), and having a deeper comprehension of maintenance methodology may require some additional classroom-based learning.
The FIA offers a qualification course in fire detection and alarm maintenance, which may benefit both those who are new to the industry, and those who have been in their current roles for some time but need a refresher.