American Alarms Blog

Wireless communicators - GSM and CDMA

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

Wireless communicators have been popular in the security market for many years.  In the last few years, with code changes and wider acceptance by AHJs, they have become much more popular with fire alarm customers also.  With more and more of these alarm communicators in the marketplace, it's important to understand what they do and what they don't.  The two formats for digital wireless communicators on the market are GSM and CDMA.

GSM = Global System for Mobile (communications)

CDMA = Code Division Multiple Access

Globally, GSM is the more widely-used standard with about 75% of the market share.  In the US, however, CDMA is the more dominant standard.  Some of the major carriers that use these standards:

GSM - Sprint, AT&T

CDMA - Verizon, US Cellular

We have tested and installed a number of both types of communicators.  We've found that CDMA communicators are the strongest signal with least number of communication failures.  Both technologies are getting better all the time, because of competition in the market and advancements in R&D.  

Some of the attraction for customers are the cost savings and flexibility of installation.  Instead of having two phone line charges and one alarm monitoring fee every month, the customer has just one alarm monitoring fee.  All network charges are handled through the monitoring company.

***NOTE: Not all jursidictions have approved the use of "sole path" wireless communicators.  Some areas may still require some form of backup path - POTS line, internet, or radio communicator.

These communicators are here to stay, and they're a good option for many customers.  Call us to find out more about the wireless options for alarm monitoring.


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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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Urbandale Requires Fire Alarm in Apartments

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

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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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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Design Starts With Knowing Occupancy Type

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

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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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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Wireless fire alarm can save money and headaches for commercial property managers

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

Imagine if you didn't have to interrupt your tenant's business to add a few fire alarm devices in the space next door.

Imagine if there was never a dispute over whose responsibility the fire alarm is.

Imagine if you could add, move, and re-use devices on your fire alarm easily and quickly.


These dreams are all reality for our customers that use our commercial wireless fire alarm systems.  All smoke detectors, sprinkler monitoring, pull stations, heat detectors, and even most of the notification devices are wireless.  

In most tenant remodels, with wired devices, the owner/manager has no choice but to buy new devices and pay for them to wired.  Often this process results in new wiring running through another tenant space to get power or signal from the main control panel.  This is NOT the case with wireless.

With wireless fire alarm there is:

No new wiring through occupied tenant spaces.

Up to 2048 device addresses available per panel.

Easy relocation and even re-use of devices, if needed.

No "rats nest" of wires left above the ceiling after multiple remodels.


If you manage multi-tenant commercial properties, call us today to see how wireless fire alarm can benefit you and your properties.



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What's above your ceiling?

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

Since 99% of our systems are in commercial buildings, we see a LOT of alarm wiring.  We also talk to a LOT of electricians and other people working on commercial projects.  After our projects are done, those same people thank us for the neat and orderly work that we leave them.  Sure, we could get in there and throw cables around, and make it work.  Once those ceiling tiles go in, the owner may never see our sloppy wiring again.  But we also do enough service on systems, that we make sure to leave wiring that the next person can understand.  Some of the multi-tenant buildings that we work in, are continuously being remodeled with new tenants.  These buildings are VERY difficult to keep neat and understandable.  I'm not bragging, but we've made this a passion.  If you own or manage multi-tenant buildings, let us take care of the fire alarm and other low-voltage changes.  We guarantee you'll be satisfied.

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Fire Departments Require Online Reporting - ComplianceEngine

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022
The fire departments listed above, are now requiring online reporting of new fire alarm system installations and all fire alarm system inspection/tests.  
We are charged for this service, so we will pass along the charge to all customers in these areas.

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How do you hide the fire alarm and still meet the codes?

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

Where do you go when the owner and architect want one thing, but the fire codes require something else?  Well, Concealite has built a business around just that!  American Alarms is your local distributor for Concealite products that have helped architects and code officials find a reasonable compromise for years.  Imagine walking into a room where NONE of the fire alarm notification devices, emergency lighting, electrical wall outlets, security motion detectors, and even occupancy sensors are concealed in the wall.  Never before has it been this easy to design a space with a clean seamless look, but still meet all the electrical and life safety code requirements.  Most devices can be painted or wallpapered to match any wall/ceiling.  See the GIF and link below for more info on these incredible products.


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