American Alarms Blog

National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week

by Adam Jacobs 4/17/2019

When we think of safety, it's easy to think of the firefighters, police officers, and EMS personnel that respond to emergencies every day.  But don't forget about all the other people that work to get those first-responders to the scene of an emergency quickly and safely.

Please take the time to thank 9-1-1 telecommunicators, communications staff trainers, supervisors and managers of communications centers, those that that maintain radio and emergency phone systems, and other public safety telecommunications staff across the country who work hard every day serving the public.


Thank you all!

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Recycle all of it (almost)

by Adam Jacobs 3/21/2019

At American Alarms, we do our part to reduce the amount of waste we put out into the world.  Here are just a few of the items we re-purpose or recycle:

- Batteries

- Wire and cable

- Circuit boards

- Old CCTV monitors (even CRT)

- Obsolete alarm parts (when a customer upgrades)

- Obsolete CCTV cameras (when a customer upgrades)

- Miscellaneous electronic components

- Office computers

- Office paper and plastics


Do YOUR part by making sure the companies you hire are doing their part!




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Fire Alarm in Building Wasn't Working When Firefighters Arrived

by Adam Jacobs 3/20/2019

I just read a story of a fire in a Denton, TX apartment building.  The residents were evacuated in the middle of the night, taking what few belongings they could carry.  The firefighters were still cutting into walls to make sure the fire was completely out.  The apartment management company did not do much to help the residents, but local schools and the Red Cross help many families.  The thing that really stuck out, though, was they mentioned the building has a fire alarm system.  It didn't alarm.  It had been (supposedly) inspected, tested, and tagged less than a year earlier.  So what happened?  Did the fire alarm contractor actually do a functional test of all the devices?  Or did they just do a "drive-by" inspection and stick a tag on the panel?  Now the residents and the building owner are in a big predicament.

Are you just paying for a tag so you don't get harassed by the city, or is your system REALLY tested every year?

Does your insurance company pay for fire damage when the fire alarm doesn't work the way it should?

Is it worth saving a few bucks on the inspections each year to put lives in danger and risk a denied insurance claim?


Make sure your alarm contractor does a full functional test of your system.  Watch them do it some time.  

Or you can call us.  We will never skimp on safety.


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Urbandale Requires Fire Alarm in Apartments

by Adam Jacobs 2/27/2019

If you own or manage an apartment building with 16 or more units, you've probably received the letter.  It was actually sent back on June 9, 2015.  It gives owners/managers 5 years to bring their buildings up to compliance with this letter.  These are only a portion of the requirements in a similar building constructed today, but it still could be a significant cost.  Installing anything AFTER construction is complete is more expensive.  But there are options to get a building into compliance, with minimal impact on residents and your budget.  This letter is really a "step in the right direction" rather than a full-blown all-in fire alarm system.  A pull station here, a horn/strobe there, not much really.  But better than having NO building notification in the event of fire.  These systems are also required to be remotely monitored at a UL-listed central station that will relay a dispatch call to Urbandale Fire Department when a general alarm is activated.  We are getting a lot more calls now, because it's nearing the first deadline - June 9, 2019 - when all letter recipients need to have a formal system plan in to Urbandale for review.  The system, if approved, will need to be installed and inspected by Urbandale FD by June 9, 2020.  There are a few other requirements not related to fire alarm in the letter, so if your didn't get one and you think you may fall under these new requirements, contact Urbandale Fire Department and talk to them.  Call American Alarms for a site survey and estimate on fire alarm to meet the new requirements.  Don't wait until June 8th to call.

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Occupational Licensing - Alarm Contractors

by Adam Jacobs 2/13/2019

In the 1950's only 5% of workers in America needed a license to do their job.  Today it's estimated that 19% of all workers in the U.S. need an occupational license.  Workers who install, program, test/inspect, and service fire alarm systems are in that 19%.  For at least the last 10 years, the Iowa Department of Public Safety, State Fire Marshal's Division, has required anyone wanting to work on fire alarm systems to get a license first.  Here are the different levels (endorsements) of licensing required for fire alarm in Iowa:

#1 = Fire alarm system contractor or installer (all-inclusive, 2-7 not needed)

Allows the license holder to do anything related to fire alarm systems - install, test/inspect, service, and program.

#2 = Nurse call systems only

#3 = Security alarms only

#4 = Alarm system maintenance/inspection only

#5 = Dwelling unit alarm system only (Residential)

#6 = Alarm system component installer only

Allows license holder to hang devices, but not to program or test the system.

#7 = Alarm system assistant (must be supervised by #1 license holder)


In order to get each of these licenses, you need to be pre-certified using an approved training/testing course:

NICET II Fire Alarm Systems or ESA Certified Alarm Tech 2 = #1 State License

NICET I Fire Alarm Systems or ESA Certified Alarm Tech 1 = #2-#7 only


In addition to certification, before getting the Iowa license, we must also go through a complete criminal background check including fingerprinting.

To make sure you get a qualified alarm technician, ask to see the technician's State of Iowa license.  They should have a card with the state seal and a list of endorsements.  If their endorsements don't match what they have come to do for you, question them (or flog them) rigorously.  The state fire marshal doesn't have time to run around and check everyone's license, but you should.  Your safety and that of your co-workers, customers, and visitors are in their hands.  

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Did the low bid really save you money?

by Adam Jacobs 11/7/2018

I can't even count how many times I've heard customers complain (after the fact) about all the costs that come from NOT having a fire alarm system installed correctly and professionally.  Here are some of those ADDED costs that show up down the road, long after the final punch-list is complete:

- Programming changes - $130 to $180/hour X 2 hours min = avg $300 per trip

- Service calls for issues that show up and none of the sub-contractors will claim = $300 min. per call

- False alarms caused by short circuits, incorrect programming, or other mistakes = second trip $200, increases from there

- Cost of being on the fire department's sh-- list = ?

- Upset tenants/residents from false alarms and service calls/testing = ?

- Extra work (maybe overtime) for maintenance workers/property managers = $50-$100/month avg.

- Parts that fail because they were not properly installed or properly surge-protected = easily 10% of total initial system cost/year


Now, you may think...most of this would be covered under my warranty.  Well, maybe you should read your fire alarm warranty.  We provide our warranty to any customer that asks, but not many ask.  Here are some things that aren't usually covered under a fire alarm warranty:

- Surge damage (including lightning)

- Other natural hazards

- Damage from people, animals, insects, etc.

- Water/ice/snow on outside horn/strobes or pull stations that eventually gets inside the device (very common in Iowa)

- Issue related to phone lines or internet connections (also very common)


Please make sure you work with a fire alarm contractor that know what they are doing.  From the site survey, to the estimate, to the installation, to the programming, to the monitoring, to the service after the sale, it ALL matters.  There's also a COST to all of these pieces.

Be safe.


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Remodeling may bring fire trucks

by Adam Jacobs 10/17/2018
I had a customer call today about this, so I thought it would be a good time to remind everyone.  If you are doing remodeling of any kind you should cover the smoke detectors and put your system on test while sawing, soldering, etc.  Here are some of the worst construction by-products that create false alarms:
- Soldering smoke
- Drywall dust (very fine)
- Hardwood dust (like oak, maple, cherry, etc.) used for trim/cabinets
- Final cleanup dust (which in commercial spaces usually includes drywall and concrete dust.)
Capping with the original dust covers will help some, but may not prevent all false alarms.  Bagging and taping is probably best, if the detector is very near the source of the dust/smoke.  Customer just needs to make sure these items are removed before a city official inspects for occupancy.

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In Memory - 17 years ago

by Adam Jacobs 9/11/2018

I still remember watching the news coverage on September 11, 2001 after the first plane hit the World Trade Center.  My first thought was complete disbelief.  Then it changed to horror, as I watched people fleeing the scene covered in dust and blood.  I had a new respect for the first-responders that acted so bravely under pressure that day (and for days after).  I also had a new appreciation for the delicate balance of freedom and safety that we have in our country today.  How I felt that day is part of the reason I am SO proud to do my part in the life safety field.  I'm not comparing what I do (designing and servicing fire alarm systems) to what fire rescue and police personnel do every day.  But I do feel that our part is important, too.  I am also proud to assist these brave rescue personnel with a quicker response and better information once they get on scene.  I pray that nothing like that ever happens again.  If it does, my hope is that we can save even more lives with better technology, better procedures, and better communication.  

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Des Moines adopting new fire codes soon

by Adam Jacobs 8/15/2018
I went to the Des Moines Fire Dept this morning to see what will be coming down the road for new codes.  Here's summary of what they expect.
IFC and IBC 2018 - Central Iowa Code Consortium expects to receive all comments and requests for amendments by mid-August.  New codes, with local amendments will be sent to local governments for approval by December.  Early adopters (including Des Moines) will approve by March 2019
All CICC jurisdictions must approve by December 2019.
Pella is newest member of the CICC, which is now 18 communities.
Other sections with notable updates:
sec 510 - Emergency Responder Radio Coverage - Des Moines is still accepting fire fighter phones where their radios don't work, but may soon require RF boosters (DAS systems) in areas where they can't get 95% reliable coverage.
Sec 901 - Integrated systems must be tested TOGETHER at least once every 10 years.  Fire alarm plus suppression, wet sprinkler, HVAC, etc.
Spaces under grandstands/bleachers that are at least 1000 square feet and enclosed, must have full sprinkler coverage.
Sec 903. - Attics intended for living space or storage - sprinkler required. also where eave of roof is 55ft or more above egress level and made of combustible materials
Residential cooking appliances (see UL 300)
Sec 907.2.1 - Group A fire alarm requirements - 300 total occupancy OR if any level ABOVE the egress level has occupancy of 100 or more.
Sec 1010 - Locking arrangements in Group E and Group B occupancy, delayed egress
Chapter 11 - Existing buildings
Sec 1103 - Bars (drinking establishments) that hold more than 300 people
Sec 1103.9 - CO detection requirements
Call American Alarms if you have any questions about what is required in your building.

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Design Starts With Knowing Occupancy Type

by Adam Jacobs 1/17/2018

Whenever I sit down to design a fire alarm system, the first thing I have to remember is...what type of occupancy is this?  Some buildings are easy, like hotels.  Some mixed-use buildings can be very challenging to even know WHAT type of occupancy the building will be.  If I have complete architectural drawings (that's a big IF) sometimes there are enough clues.  But sometimes it takes lots of phone calls before I know how to start the fire alarm design, or if fire alarm will even be required.  Linked below is a handy reference that compares IBC and NFPA occupancy classifications.



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