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Fire Alarm Monitoring & Communicator FAQ (CAN/ULC-S561, NFPA 72):

“First, learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.”
-- Epictetus (on communications)

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What are the two certification levels and what do they mean?

Is a ULC issued monitoring certificate required for a fire alarm sprinkler monitoring system?

Where can I obtain a CAN/ULC-S561-13 Appendix “C” inspection form?

Can two buildings be served by one fire service connection (fire alarm communicator)?

Is there any reason why an alarm from a propped open door on an access panel can’t be sent through a fire alarm communicator?

Can a building owner get in trouble for not having the fire alarm system monitored?

Can GSM be the only communication path for transmitting signals from a fire alarm system?

Is Optimum Business Phone Service compatable with my fire alarm (communicator)?

Once a fire alarm communicator has a pull station connected to it, is it considered a fire alarm system?

Is it legal to connect two fire alarm communicators on the same telephone line?

Do systems covered under CAN/ULC-S561 need to be verified (to CAN/ULC-S537)?

Does a fire alarm communicator have to be serviced with a dedicated telephone line?

How do you make a UDACT work with VOIP (or digital telephone) service?

Can you program a fire alarm UDACT to communicate with a personal cellular telephone?

 

Is Optimum Business Phone Service compatable with my fire alarm (communicator)?

This appears to be a VOIP service. We discuss VOIP enabled communications in this FAQ as well as on our TIPS page. I do not believe it will be compatible with a fire alarm communicator for a number of reasons which I've covered in these articles.
 

 

Where can I obtain a CAN/ULC-S561-13 Appendix “C” inspection form?

Simple!  Contact Us!

A copy of the Appendix “C” inspection form MUST be kept on premises for review by the local authority.

 

 

Is it legal to connect two fire alarm communicators on the same telephone line?

No. In Canada, this would not only violate CAN/ULC-S561 (Installation and Services for Fire Signal Receiving Centres and Systems), it may even compromise the ability of the second communicator to transmit trouble, supervisory and alarm signals (or interfere with the signal transmission of either connected unit).  You may want to review this FAQ.

Technician's Tip

 

Once a fire alarm communicator has a pull station connected to it, is it considered a fire alarm system?

To answer this question, we would have to examine the definition of a fire alarm system. In Canada, the reference standard to use is CAN/ULC-S524-06 (Canadian Fire Alarm Installation Standard) which states:

    "FIRE ALARM SYSTEM - A combination of devices consisting of at least a control unit, a manual station and an audible signal device, designed to warn the building occupants of an emergency fire condition."

So, on the face of it, a fire alarm communicator with a pull station connected to it cannot be considered a fire alarm system. There's another part of the referenced Standard that can also be considered helpful in answering this question.  Sentence 3.1.1 states that:

    "A fire alarm system shall consist of at least the following interconnected devices: a control unit, a manual station and an audible signal device".

 

 

Do systems covered under CAN/ULC-S561 need to be verified (to CAN/ULC-S537)?

No. CAN/ULC-S561 has its own testing criteria in Appendix "C". Normally, this should be all that is required to ensure that the premises communicator equipment meets and is installed to this Standard.

 

 

Is a ULC issued monitoring certificate required for a fire alarm or sprinkler monitoring system?

Provincial Building and Fire Codes mandate notification of the fire department in accordance with CAN/ULC-S561 when it comes to the monitoring of building sprinkler and fire alarm systems.  Many local authorities interpret this to mean the installation of a communicator (as well as the signal transmission means) must also meet the criteria of this Standard because they have no other means of identifying a properly installed system unless either the appropriate Appendix "C" documentation or the ULC Certificate is provided (and even then there are systems which have valid certificates but fall far short of the Standard).  If, during the course of a 536 or 537 inspection, you come across such a system and can recognize that the equipment has been installed correctly, can document its testing and function adequately, and that it has a current Appendix “C” report, then you will have fulfilled your obligations under the fire alarm testing standards.  You must, however, comment on any deviations you observe and submit them to the local jurisdictional authority so they can follow up as they see fit (this includes the absence of the required CAN/ULC-S561 Appendix “C” report).

NOTE: I have seen many ULC Certificated communicator installations that have been INVALIDATED through the lack of proper inspection by the Listed servicing agency.  If signals are still being processed and responded to by the central station, then I would suggest you educate your customer as to the requirements of the certificate so that they can ensure they are receiving the level of service they are paying for (or can make alternate arrangements for the monitoring of the equipment with a company that is dedicated to maintaining the Standard).

 

 

What are the two certification levels and what do they mean?

There are two ULC issued certificates which can be provided to the protected premises and which also attest to the equipment (and installation) meeting the Standard.  In most cases, the issuance of either of these certificates may be mandated by the Building's Insurers or by your local authority.  The most common is also called a "Shared Station Certificate".  It lists the installing company/servicing agency (whose recorded certification level can be verified HERE) as well as the monitoring agency (or central station).  The second type is called a “Full Service Certificate” and is issued by an agency that provides both the monitoring and installation of the equipment.  Both are valid for a period of five (5) years and provide space for the servicing agency to record the results of the required annual inspection.  If the installation is into the second (or following) years and no technician initials or testing dates are recorded, the certificate is INVALID.  There are many communicator installations that meet all aspects of the actual standard but may NOT have a valid certificate issued by ULC (or that may have INVALID certificates).

 

 

Does a fire alarm communicator have to be serviced with a dedicated telephone line?

Modern technology says "no" (properly installed equipment has the ability to seize an existing telephone line for the exclusive use of the communicator), but CAN/ULC-S561-13 (Standard for Installation and Services for Fire Signal Receiving Centres and Systems) contains some key phraseology that many ULC inspectors interpret to mean that a dedicated line MUST be provided.  For instance, the Glossary defines both Communication Channel(s) and Communication System (respectively) as follows:

    “A facility or service extending from a protected premises for the purpose of transmitting alarm, trouble and supervisory signals from a protected premises to a fire signal receiving centre.”

and

    “A communications channel or channels and associated equipment utilized to transmit signals to a fire signal receiving centre.”

Notice that the “purpose” that both definitions suggest is exclusively for the use of transmitting signals to the fire signal receiving centre.

Two separate and diverse transmission pathways must also be employed to transmit the signals to the receiving centre if a passive communication means is utilized (the alternative is to utilize a communicator which uses Active Communication technology).  Dual line digital communicators (employing purely POTS lines) are no longer allowed in Canada (for new installations) and some have even been delisted by ULC.  A number of currently installed units are "grandfathered", however no new certificates are going to be issued.  You can read more about this in our TIP.  An acceptable work around for many UDACT’s and dual line communicators, that are still certified to CAN/ULC-S559, involves the use of a Cellular GSM unit to transmit the signals on the second line.  There is also a requirement for “simultaneous transmission” of signals articulated in Clause 12.3.3 of CAN/ULC-S561-13:

    “The transmission of fire alarm, trouble and supervisory signals shall be performed simultaneously on two or more communication systems.  If one communication system received positive acknowledgment that the signal was received the second or all other communication systems may cease the signal communication attempt.”

 

Owner's Tip

 

How do you make a UDACT work with VOIP (or digital telephone) service?

Note:  This question was asked by a local installer who wanted to utilize a temporary setup to transmit supervisory and alarm signals on a dry pipe sprinkler system in an unoccupied new building where construction had been delayed and the only lines available were in the site office. 

There are more than a few installers who've become frustrated with the limitations imposed by Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephone service and some of the older style UDACTS and stand-alone digital communicators (employed by some burglar alarm systems).  Typically, SIA or CID (two of the most common communication methods) have difficulty dealing with digital phone lines.  Sometimes even the standby voltage supplied by the telephone modem is insufficient for the communicator to sense a dial tone.  An easy fix entails using an older style communications format like "4-2".  You can overcome the dial tone issue by "forcing" the UDACT (or home burglar alarm) to dial after a few seconds delay.  Consult the programming manual to determine how to achieve this. Alternatively you can use one of the new IP communicators (which will entail "splitting" the incoming cable signal for the premises VOIP telephone line).

CAUTION! Your typical VOIP modem has limited standby capacity in the event of a power failure.  There are other problems associated with the use of this type of technology.  You can read our Communicator TIP for more information.  In this case, the "fixes" suggested above will prove insufficient as most Authorities recognize the limitations of the service and will NOT accept it.  The primary communication method used by any UDACT communicator must be capable of providing service for the mandatory supervisory and alarm events period specified by Code.  You may have to revert to "POTS" or employ an active communications method in order to achieve this.

 

Technician's Tip

 

Can you program a fire alarm UDACT to communicate with a personal cellular telephone?

Yes you could, but NO, you won't be allowed to, for two reasons:

1. The method is not an approved alternative to the requirement that any jurisdictional authority (in Canada) has in place for the transmission of alarm signals from listed control equipment. CAN/ULC-S561 is the Reference Standard for fire alarm communications.

2. Your cell phone is incapable of transmitting the proper tones for the UDACT to achieve "kiss off" (the term used in the industry to describe the primary function of the communicator to relay alarm information to a special receiver via a series of tones). If you did manage to find the right combination of key strokes that would initiate communications, the resulting burst of signals from the UDACT would be meaningless to you. You wouldn't know if it was a "trouble", "alarm", or the programmed twenty-four hour "test". Without "kiss off", the communicator will make several attempts to reach a recognized receiver tone after which it will "shut down" and go into local "trouble mode".

 

Owner's Tip

 

Can GSM be the only communication path for transmitting signals from a fire alarm system?

No.  Reliability of the communications pathways remains the key factor in determining the method by which signals are transmitted to the central station.  In most urban centres, this is rarely an issue.  In instances where reliability of a second distinct pathway is in doubt however, a single pathway employing dual channels may be utilized.  This is articulated in CAN/ULC-S561-12 Section 11.3.2:

    “Passive communications systems shall use at least two separate and non-interdependent communications channels.

      Exception:  If the monitoring service provider can demonstrate that reliable alternative communication systems are unavailable a single method of passive communications may be employed as follows:

      A  If using a single method of passive communications there shall be two channels provided and provision shall be made to transmit signals first over one of the communications channels and if the first attempt fails then an attempt to transmit signals over the alternative channel(s) shall be made.

      B  Premises wiring for the communications channels shall be enclosed in metallic conduit containing multi-conductor cables or the conductors shall take separate paths throughout the protected premises to the common carrier point of entry into the building (refer to CAN/ULC-S524, Installation of Fire Alarm Systems, Clause 3.3.1.3 for recommended separation distances).”

In other words, when no reliable second communications pathway is available, a dual line communicator (UDACT) may be employed.  The communicator must be Listed to CAN/ULC-S559.

 

Technician's Tip

 

Can a building owner get in trouble for not having the fire alarm system monitored?

That actually depends on what provisos were in place for when the building’s occupancy permit was granted and whether-or-not twenty-four hour off site monitoring was required under the applicable Building Code (or Municipal Bylaw).  In Canada, any building which incorporates a sprinkler system MUST generate alarm and supervisory signals to a ULC Listed monitoring centre.  The requirements are outlined in this FAQ.  If a building owner CANCELS the monitoring service at any time after the occupancy permit is issued, the monitoring station is obligated to contact the local Fire Department under the terms of the Monitoring Certificate.  The building could be subject to a Fire Watch under provisions of the Provincial Fire Code until the monitoring is reinstated.

 

Owner's Tip

 

Is there any reason why an alarm from a propped open door on an access panel can’t be sent through a fire alarm communicator?

No.  In fact, it’s quite commonplace to secure the access door to an electrical room in this manner.  A supervisory signal would be sent to the monitoring agency (instead of a burglary signal) so that the building owner or custodial staff would be alerted to an entry.  Keep in mind that in most Provinces and States, only a licensed security company can actually install and monitor a burglar or security alarm system.

 

 

Can two buildings be served by one fire service connection (fire alarm communicator)?

Most definitely YES!  The one proviso being that alarm events from each building must be transmitted separately.  Most modern fire alarm communicators are capable of of doing this.  The DSC PC-1616, for instance, has six on-board zones.  Keep in mind, alarm events involve actual activation of the local notification appliances (bells, horns, strobes).  These must be transmitted on separate zones so that First Responders will have an accurate physical address to roll the trucks to (this includes any ancillary communications equipment such as GSM or IP communicators).  Trouble and supervisory signals are considered a lower priority and can be grouped together as they would involve the dispatch of onsite service or maintenance personnel who can identify the building locally.  If, however, the installation is required to be certificated, it will require dedicated trouble and supervisory signals to be transmitted as well.  Check with your local AHJ.

 

Technician's Tip

 

 

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