American Alarms Blog

Is Your Fire Alarm System Really Communicating?

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

We recently discovered, through numerous tests, that most (if not all) of the newer modem (telephony/VOIP) phone lines are NOT redundant.  So even if you have two phone numbers, if one line is down they're BOTH down.  This is how the modem works.  It's assigning two different phone numbers, but they are communicating over the same "line".  So, if you have phone service that uses a modem and you are using them for your fire alarm be sure you ask the installing technician these two questions:

Is my modem programmed to fake analog phone lines? - this is the only way that the the fire alarm panel will recognize these lines

If one "line" isn't working, do I still have a backup "line" so that my fire alarm panel can communicate an alarm?

Telephony is fine, and it can save you money, but be sure you're not sacrificing your safety. 

CenturyLink is the only telephone service provider in our area that provides true analog phone lines that ALWAYS work with fire alarm communicators.  This isn't a plug for CentruyLink, is simply a fact that we've revealed through years of experience.


Research your telephone service.  You DON'T want your fire protection to be "phony".

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Did the low bid really save you money?

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

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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Iowa Green Streets - CO detection

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

In Iowa Green Streets Criteria version 4.0, Section 7-16 specifies that "One hard-wired carbon monoxide (CO) detector shall be installed for each sleeping area, minimum one per floor."  This section is labeled Combustion Equipment (includes space and water-heating equipment).  Under "Intent", this section mentions the difference between direct vent and power vented equipment.  With either type of equipment, a minimum of one detector per floor is mandatory to meet the criteria of Iowa Green Streets.  In contrast, IFC 2012 requires CO detection on floors that use gas-fired appliances, floor above and floor below, as well as any floor with a garage.  CO detection is here to stay.

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Hotel/Motel Fire Safety

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

Summer is a time when families travel more.  There are some basic tips for fire safety, that will give you peace of mind when you travel.  Here is a brochure from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) on hotel and motel fire safety.  Travel safely this Summer!


HotelMotelSafety_brochure.pdf (195.68 kb)

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Access control in the CLOUD

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

First of all, what does "in the cloud" even mean?  Is it up in the sky somewhere?  No.  It really just means that you are not hosting the data on your site.  You pay someone else (maybe someone who understands data storage and cyber-security) to store your information and maintain the equipment that stores it.  Lots of systems are using cloud storage, and access control is no different.  there are a few manufacturers that offer cloud management and information storage.  The best one we've found is Brivo.  What make it the best?

- First in the industry, more experience

- Easy to use customer controls, multiple ways to access info

- Small footprint on-site equipment (control 2 doors with something that looks like a WAP and mounts as easily)

- Expandable from 1 door to thousands of doors in multiple locations

- Best mobile management technology - iOS app, Android app

- Many ways to use readers - mobile (e-key), fob, card

- Highest cyber-security in the industry

- Easy to install and more flexibility than other access control systems


But what about the COST?  That's always a concern for customers.  None of us have unlimited budgets.  Well here's a way to compare a cloud system with a non-cloud system, as far as Total Cost of Ownership.


Call us today and ask about Brivo cloud access control for your commercial building.


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Don't be afraid to get away from wires!

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

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Amazon asked to stop selling smoke detectors

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

Washington fire service organizations are asking Amazon to stop selling smoke alarms that are not properly tested. The Washington State Association of Fire Marshals says Amazon has been made aware of concerns with the unlisted smoke alarms but is still selling them.

Read the full article here:


Smoke and heat detection has had extensive testing in the United States for decades.  Some of the alarm products discussed here are coming from outside the US, and are not properly tested to US standards before being sold with online retailers.

BEWARE!  Before you buy that smoke detector online and save a few bucks, think about what the lives of your loved ones are worth that it's protecting.  If you have ANY doubts about whether the device will work when it's needed, you should not buy it.  Here are some brands that have been tested for years and proven themselves:

FirstAlert (BRK is also part of this group)



I've personally purchased all of these brands, and believe they will stand behind their products.


Smoke detectors save lives, when they work the way they're intended.  That takes lots of testing.  Shop carefully.


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In Memory - 17 years ago

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

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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Made in the USA

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022

We feel it's important to do our part to buy American products (it's in our name after all).  If we can't get them in the USA, we try to buy from free trade countries.  Below are some of the companies and products we buy from regularly that are located in the USA.

Gentex Corp - fire alarm notification devices (Michigan)

Chase Security - wire guards for fire alarm and security devices (Illinois)

STI - pull station covers, specialty buttons, enclosures (Michigan)

TekTone - apartment intercom, nurse call (North Carolina)

GRI - security contacts (Nebraska)

Rath/Microtech - area of refuge call systems, emergency phones (Wisconsin)

Air Products and Controls - relays and controls (Michigan)

Altronix - power supplies, power controls (New York)

Potter and Evax - power supplies, fire alarm devices (Missouri)

Amseco - security parts (Missouri)

Cartell - vehicle detection (Pennsylvania)

Concealite - motorized device enclosures (South Dakota)

Ditek - surge protection for fire alarm, security, and CCTV (Florida)

Jeron - intercom, nurse call (Illinois)

Keltron - communicators, monitoring solutions (Massachusetts)

Napco - alarm communicators, fire alarm and security panels (New York)

SDi - fire alarm testing equipment (New Jersey)

Thermotech - specialty heat detectors (Utah)


We encourage you to buy American whenever you can, too!


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Updates from Des Moines Fire Department

by Adam Jacobs 9/21/2022
Presenters:  Jonathan Lund, Patrick Phelan, Mark Dooley
Submittal and Review (Patrick Phelan):
We should budget at least 3 weeks for submittal review in our projects.
Patrick is current now, but this is the first time in 2 years.  He expects Spring to bring a heavier load of projects.
There is no expediting process, but we can "cut in line" ahead of our own projects, if needed.
Patrick is asking that we only send ONE set of drawings for initial review, to save space and paper in his office.  Once approved, we can mail in two more sets to Patrick for stamping.
All plans must be FOLDED, rather than rolled.
If we send a self-addressed, stamped envelope with plans, Patrick will mail them back once reviewed.
Easiest payment method is to keep a credit card on file with FD for permit fees, so they can approve, take payment, and mail back immediately after review.
On the plans, don't include functions in the OPERATIONAL MATRIX that are not needed for that system.
For VOICE EVACUATION systems, we should mark "Acoustically Distinguishable Spaces" and "Intelligibility Test Locations" on our drawings.
Patrick requests an electronic "As-Built" drawing once the project is complete, for the FD to keep on file for future.
Area of Refuge call systems should be shown on our drawings, if we are providing.
Final Testing (Capt. Mark Dooley):
Normal testing times are between 9AM and 3PM
Request a quote for finals outside of the time frame above.
Best time to catch Mark Dooley is after 3PM.  This is also when he returns emails and voice mails.
Capt. Dooley gave us a new "Final Fire Inspection Checklist" that resembles the checklist we've been giving to installers.

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