American Alarms Blog

Cold weather creates challenges for fire fighters.

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

In recent Des Moines area fires, first responders have some extra challenges because of the sub-zero temperatures.  Here are links to some new stories recently:


Be sure your fire alarm and other life safety systems are working properly, so fire departments and paramedics have as much time as possible to help occupants in the building.





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What are you REALLY saving?

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

I just had a discussion yesterday with our sales director, about a customer who decided to use another fire alarm contractor for a new senior apartment building he built.  We went out to do an annual inspection, since the system is just over a year old.  Our techs found MANY troubles on the panel, and asked the owner if he wanted us to track down some of the many issues.  Most of the issues were simply due to the installers not knowing how to install fire alarm cable.  It's different than data cable.  It's different than electrical wiring.  It's even different than coax, as far as running the cable.  Any little nick or tight bend in the cable jacket can result in HOURS of searching for the problem.  Many other alarm companies use their own labor to install complicated electronic systems.  This works well, as far as managing the project, as long as you have someone experienced at fire alarm installation watching the details.  We normally partner with experienced electricians to do the wiring of the system.  This works well for us, because the electricians are already on the job most days and can work in the fire alarm cabling part easier than we could.  For smaller installation projects we do use our own technicians, but we use NICET-certified people that have experience in how these system go in.  This building owner, unfortunately, will now be paying a LOT more to get a properly working system in the building.  He later found out that the "FIRE ALARM" company that he hired had only installed one other system EVER.  So if you have project that includes fire alarm, ask yourself, "What am I REALLY saving by hiring this less expensive installer?"  Then go ask your contractor, "How many fire alarm systems have you installed?"

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Addressable fire alarm systems

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

I have people ask me often, what does "addressable" mean?  Well, in fire alarms, there are two basic types - conventional (zoned) systems, and addressable (point ID) systems.  I like to compare the two like taking a vacation in a new city.  Let's say you head out to visit a friend in a city you don't know very well.  They gave you their address, but no other directions.  15-20 years ago, you would have to stop every few blocks to ask someone (local) if you are getting close.  Now we have GPS/navigation software on our phones, in our cars, and even on smart watches.  All we have to do is punch in the address and the software uses all the data available on the internet, including satellite images, to find that address.  Well, the fire department LOVES addressable fire alarm systems, for the same reason we love GPS.  It gets us where we're going much faster.  The fire department can get a fire alarm call, with a specific smoke detector address, and know right where to go when they send the fire trucks.  They don't want to make 3 stops to ask directions (or search 3 floors of an apartment building) before finding the source of an alarm.  Not when someone's life could be at stake.  Because they provide much more information to the fire department, addressable fire alarm systems save lives.  

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Voice Evacuation Systems and Square Wave Technology

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

Voice evacuation systems have been around for years, but more types of occupancies are now required to have them.  Voice evacuation systems, since tones are generated by speakers, meet the 520 Hz requirement in NFPA 72 2010 and 2013.

The reason for the change in the code is research performed by Bruck and Thomas in Australia.* In over a decade of research, they found that the 520 Hz square wave signal was the most effective in waking all individuals. With children and young adults, the low-frequency signal is 6 to 10 times more effective than the current high-frequency signal. In adults with hearing loss, it was found to be more than seven times as effective as the standard high-frequency (~3,000 Hz) tone used in most audible appliances today.

Attached is a basic explanation and guide for voice evacuations systems.


Voice Evacuation Manual.pdf (1,004.35 kb)

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Occupational Licensing - Alarm Contractors

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

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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Commercial Wireless Fire Alarm - the pros and cons

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

Wireless fire alarm in a commercial building has had a rocky history.  There were lots of trial and error improvements made, however.  The remaining products are as reliable as wired ones, with all factors considered.


Pros of wireless fire alarm devices:

Allows for more flexibility

No wires (except AC power), little wiring labor, no wiremold/conduit

Little chance of ground faults (one of the most common and annoying problems with wired systems)

Little chance of lightning damage (especially if you protect the AC circuit and eliminate the phone lines)

Easily changed (like in multi-tenant buildings where spaces/configurations change often)

Fast installation compared to wired system

Power/battery consumption has improved greatly over the last few years


Cons of wireless systems:

Batteries still only last 2-3 years (typically 3V Lithium CR123A type)

Device cost is 2 or more times that of wired devices 

Programming and setup takes longer (but much of this can be done before bringing parts to installation site)

Not every configuration/requirement can be done wireless

Large systems (over 50 devices) become more difficult to do wireless, but are possible


After weighing all the factors of your project, be sure you consider wireless fire alarm.  Especially if the project is multi-tenant where the overall system design could change every few months, wireless allows flexibility and lower remodel costs.  


*NOTE: Not all local AHJs will approve wireless fire alarms, even though they are acceptable in NFPA.  Be sure you check with your local AHJ before getting too serious about wireless fire alarm.


I believe everyone's goal in our industry is to protect as many people as well as we can.  Wireless fire alarm presents some interesting opportunities for challenging design projects.



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HUGE cost savings when you consider wireless.

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

Most of our customers have never considered a wireless fire alarm system.  And until a few months ago, they didn't really have a choice.  But last April, American Alarms became the sole designer/dealer of CWSI systems in Iowa.  We are EXTREMELY excited to partner with CWSI for these reasons...

- CWSI products are 100% made in the USA

- Their products have been put through the RINGER by UL, much more than wired systems.

- They have been perfecting wireless fire alarm systems since 1979.

- They ONLY make wireless fire alarm systems, so they're GOOD at it.


Attached is a cost analysis of a typical apartment complex (or any other multiple-building project).  A wired fire alarm system in a 36-plex apartment building with sounder bases and interior corridors can cost $50,000 or more with labor.  The CWSI system may only be HALF that, depending on total number of devices.  WHY?  Because it takes a LOT of time to plan all the cable routes, pull cable to every room, to wire bases, to wire the panel, etc.


BUT, on top of that, there's ALSO a huge recurring savings on telephone lines, monitoring accounts, service to wiring and ground faults, lightning problems, and on and on.  Download the PDF attached here, to get an idea of how much you can save on a multi-building project.  Then call us!


Savings on Monitoring with CWSI.pdf (119.28 kb)

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5 Things Facilities Managers Need To Know About Hurricane Clean-up

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

Our friends at NFPA have published an informational article for facility managers who are responsible for the safety in a building.  When that building has just been damaged by a hurricane, their job becomes one hundred times harder.  This article gives some great tips and things to consider.

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