What Does Life Safety Mean to You?

What Does Life Safety Mean to You?

By Brad Higdon / Published June 2017


As an occupant of a property, we seldom think about preservation of life. Life safety is a combination of several systems, which may include a fire alarm, fire sprinkler, standpipe [connection for fire hose] systems, fire pumps, generators, emergency voice evacuation, two-way emergency communications systems, area of refuge, and elevator recall. These systems can become very complicated and may have interaction with other types of systems, including access control, heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems, emergency lighting, signage, door and shutter release, exit marking, audible notification systems, etc. But, in the event of an emergency, the quickest way to preserve a life is to have the reliability of the life safety systems and the rapid response of the first responders.

It’s important that you maintain these systems, and it may even be required by the authority having jurisdiction. When evaluating your systems for reliability or upgrades, where do you go? Do you call a friend? Ask the building next door? Ask your current life safety systems contractor? Use a search engine on the Internet? Go to your local municipality or airport and see who they use? Any of the above is a good start.

In the way technology has changed in the last few generations, this has also affected the life safety industry. This shift of technology has improved unwarranted alarms, response time, ease of use, and fire sprinkler response, while minimizing maintenance requirements and costs, allowing monitoring of systems’ reliability on a 24-hour basis. Also, part of the change in the industry has been the focus on retrofitting systems to blend into an existing structure for an aesthetically pleasing final installation.

New wireless technology allows for an installation of a system that can transmit and receive signals without the aid of interconnecting wiring. A wireless fire alarm system must meet the same basic requirements as any other fire alarm system. It can consist of either a wireless control unit or wireless repeaters and sensors. In many buildings where the wire or cable installation can damage the building or affect the historic significance of the property, wireless systems may be a viable option. Also, buildings that use corrosive materials that can affect the integrity of the wire used to interconnect the fire alarm system, as well as any building remote from the main facility, are perfect candidates for wireless technology. This can eliminate the installation of piping, wiring, support brackets, panels, trenching between buildings, etc.

Other technology is broadband and addressable. This allows multiple signaling methods to be handled on one pathway, allowing for minimal piping and wiring for these systems. Think of it as your cable television with multiple channels on one wire, but these channels control and monitor your life safety system through one wire. This can include your fire alarm, fire sprinkler monitoring, fire suppression system monitoring, voice, fireman’s phones, intercom, generator, air conditioning, smoke control, fire doors, pump monitoring, etc.—all on one path.

The new trends in technology have improved performance and response, along with allowing storage of custom programming and historical data. This improvement in technology will allow for quicker restoration after a system catastrophe and more accurate troubleshooting of ongoing events. The technology has reduced the overall ownership of these systems, by cutting installation costs by approximately 50 percent and maintenance costs by approximately 25 percent. Extending your existing wiring from a device, instead of wiring back to your main control panel, will reduce your labor and material cost to add features, which can include elevator recall, fan control, door releasing, etc., allowing customized programming for the required needs. Maintenance will be reduced by on-board diagnostics, alerting you to any abnormal conditions in the systems that may require immediate repair. Much like the check engine light in your car, it alerts you to conditions that may be detrimental to the operation of your life safety system, also saving you maintenance costs.

In this world of information at our fingertips, it is important to monitor these systems locally and remotely. With the use of smart technology and the Internet of things, you can be alerted to an elevator maintenance item, fire alarm smoke detector fault, power failure on your fire pump, and many other situations. Your contractor should be able to provide you with input in reference to providing these services at a minimal fee.

There is no formula for finding a good, competent, and trustworthy contractor.  When you narrow it down to a few contractors, here are a few basic questions to ask before requesting a proposal:   

  • Are they licensed and insured for the work?
    You should request a copy and verify the company’s state license and current insurance general liability, workers’ compensation, auto, and any other type of coverage you may require. The same should be requested for any subcontractors that the company may use.
  • What is their experience from start to finish on a project like yours?
    Have they successfully completed a project of your type and size? This includes drawings and engineering, mobilizing, phased installations, test and acceptance, punch list, completion within a timely manner, and forgiving of acceptable time delays and conditions of the project.
  • Do they have references that include services after job completion?
    References should include the business as a whole—installation, response time, warranty, service, parts availability, and customer service.
  • Is your contractor tech savvy?
    When speaking with your contractor, ask about his training and certification on requested products as well as his ability to work with Internet-capable products, including getting them set up and operational with or without third-party interaction.
  • Is your contractor financially sound?
    Ask about the financial terms that may be required by the contractor. When funding a project, a financially-sound contractor will ask for a minimal deposit upon contract execution, and then bill for work completed, allowing you peace of mind and motivation for the contractor to complete his project

In closing, the components of a life safety system rely on the collaboration of the property owner, the contractor, and the authority having jurisdiction. The property owner must determine current and future use of the property with their contractor. Any updating of fire sprinklers, elevators, or fire alarms without proper planning may increase the future cost due to all systems being intermingled. When considering the purchase of a new system, verify accessibility to alternate parts and services, if needed, and at what expense. Some systems’ parts and services are sole sourced only. When choosing a contractor or product, be sure to future-proof and ensure compatibility for any building improvements in the near future.


Brad Higdon


Bass-United began in 1977 and, as a family-owned life safety provider for more than 40 years, we carry the highest accreditations in the industry. We continually deliver the solutions customers count on to protect their people and property. Our expertise and experience has afforded us the opportunity to install and maintain all types of systems including fire alarms, security alarms, fire sprinklers, access control, CCTV systems, and intercoms. We specialize in sales, installation, monitoring, and maintenance. You can count on us to provide you with confidence, competitive pricing, prompt service, and friendly staff. For more information on Bass-United, call (954) 785-7800 or visit www.bassunited.com.