What is a Fire Panel and How Does it Work?

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Known as a fire alarm control panel (FACP), fire alarm control unit (FACU), or fire panel, these appliances choreograph the activities of countless life-saving appliances to facilitate safe evacuation and swift emergency response during a fire.

What does a fire alarm control panel do?

Fire alarm control panels perform a wide range of life-saving and property-protecting tasks. Some activate fire suppression or fire sprinkler systems, while others don’t. Some transmit a signal used to alert first responders, while others simply sound alarms in or around the building. Every fire panel acts as a middleman between devices that watch for hazards and devices tasked with alerting people to danger or problems with fire protection systems.

When a fire starts, a smoke detector, heat detector, hand-activated pull switch, or manual call point sends a signal to a fire panel. Fire sprinkler systems equipped with a flow switch or alarm pressure switch – devices designed to detect sprinkler activation – can also transmit a signal to the panel when water begins to flow through an activated sprinkler system. The fire alarm control panel responds to any of these signals by lighting up or making noise, activating local bells or other signals, and/or sending a signal to fire officials or a private monitoring company tasked with notifying the authorities.

Many of these panels aren’t equipped to activate or send water to fire sprinkler heads, which usually activate one by one in response to rising ambient temperatures. However, panels installed with some deluge sprinkler systems, for example, can open or close a deluge valve, which allows fire suppressant to be distributed to many sprinkler heads simultaneously. Panels for fire alarm systems in some facilities go even further, locking or unlocking doors, disabling elevators, turning off the electricity, or shutting off or turning on ventilation.

Fire panels can also be integrated with building management systems and security systems. In these cases, the functions of a fire panel take priority over the other systems and “the other systems cannot interfere with the operation of the fire alarm.” For example, if an access control system locks down certain outer doors in a building due to an external security threat, that command would need to be overridden in the event of a fire evacuation.

What to Consider Before You Buy a Fire Control Panel

If you’re ready to buy a fire panel for a new building, or replace an old panel in an existing building, first you should consider the features you want. You can stick with a basic fire panel that will sound an alarm and call the fire department if you already have a sophisticated system in place, such as sprinklers throughout the building. If you want a more comprehensive fire panel, you can buy one that’s full of features, such as the ability to lock or unlock doors, turn off the electricity, disable the building’s elevators, or even fully integrate with your security system.

You will also need to consider if the fire panel you want can handle the needs of your building. It has to support the number of devices and zones in the structure, and it needs to be compatible with any alarms, smoke detectors and other safety devices your building already has.

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