Testing & Inspecting Fire Alarm & Emergency Voice Systems


A fire alarm system is required to be tested regularly, the results of which are reviewed by the fire department.  When scheduling a test of a facility’s fire alarm system, property managers have a vested interest in maintaining safety compliance and limiting their liability exposure while keeping an eye on operating costs.  Operating cost reduction might seem like a good reason to conduct in-house testing, but it’s not necessarily the right decision. Having a false sense of a system’s operability can be costly in both lives lost and revenue streams lost over repairs, vacancies and litigation costs.  Reputable third party testing companies are partners that understand their responsibilities and ensure they are met, for their own success as a company as well as for the safety of those that rely on their integrity.

Outside of the cost, what may seem like an upside to using an in-house maintenance technician to test the life safety system may actually be a downside. Using an employee that is completely familiar with the facility can save time, but the property manager must remember why the test is mandated by the fire department: Proper operation of the system and devices.  A maintenance staff member probably buys a can of smoke and sprays smoke at the detector until it activates.  That’s a functional test of the detector that ensures smoke can enter the chamber and that the detector will eventually operate.  It’s not a test of whether the smoke detector will activate before smoke fills the room, which is main reason the test is required.  A reputable fire alarm testing company will ensure a detector has the proper sensitivity to smoke so it activates when it should and not false alarm or conversely, activate only after smoke levels are life threatening.

Additionally, when using staff to test correcting deficiencies identified during system testing must compete with the everyday requirements of their position.  An in-house technician may not view the needed corrections as a high priority when other maintenance issues emerge on a daily basis.  Once a lower priority is established, life safety repair postponements may become routine and forgotten, contributing to a false sense of operation by management and building occupants.  A third party testing agency doesn’t have the same pressures or familiarity.  It may know the building well, and may have been testing there for years, but they will be looking with a fresher set of eyes and with fewer expectations.

Most fire departments mandate the use of a third party to test the fire alarm and/or the emergency voice system to ensure proper operation.  Check with your local fire department to verify their testing requirements before you decide on your testing procedure.  Affiliated Fire Systems has the equipment, expertise and support you need to install, test, inspect and service your fire alarm and emergency voice system. If you have any questions regarding your life safety needs, contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page on our website, or email me directly at generowe@affiliatedinc.com.

About Gene Rowe

Gene Rowe serves as the Director of Business Development for Affiliated Customer Service. He brings twenty three years of fire alarm and emergency voice systems experience to the table with both an operational and marketing viewpoint. A US Army veteran, NICET certified, an executive board member of the IL-AFAA and a member of the NFPA, he began his career establishing operational expertise as a technician, developed graphic skills with CAD design as a general engineer, gained a ‘big picture’ mindset by moving to project management and finally a marketing perspective directing business development efforts. By interfacing with a broad range of diverse organizations such as the AFAA, CAA, AIA, CEA and the IFIA, he combines concerns of the owner, designer of record, contractor, distributor and approving authority to bring a unique perspective to Affiliated.

An avid marathon runner, he resides in west suburban Chicago with his wife and two sons. He's served the community as a Cub Scout Leader, as well as coaching multiple levels of travel and park district basketball and baseball teams. Professionally, he serves as the Treasurer and is on the Board of Directors for the Illinois chapter of the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (IL-AFAA).


  1. Thanks for sharing this! I am in charge of making sure our new office building is up to code. I plan on getting new fire alarms, and I want to make sure that I do things right. Hopefully I’ll be able to pass all of the fire department requirements on our first try!

  2. Julia Carlson says:

    I see, they dispense smoke into a room in order to test the fire alarm. I always wondered how they tested them without starting a real fire. It’s really important to have your fire alarm inspected. I know that I’d want the alarm in my home to keep me safe. It can only do that if it’s running properly. http://www.tri-security.com/commercial-security/


  1. […] In our last post, we talked about why it’s important to use a third party to test a smoke detector’s sensitivity level.  In this post, we’ll cover another area of concern: verification of outputs.  In a simple system that just sounds the horns, that may seem to be an easy task.  However, there is always more than one output to test in a municipal monitored system, even simple systems.  In more complicated systems, there may be many types of outputs.  Would in house personnel have the knowledge to test these outputs?  Would they even know that they exist?  A few questions that need to be answered by testing are: […]

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