Everybody knows that fire alarms should be tested weekly right, but what’s is the purpose of the test, how should it be done, what should it include and when should you do it?

The purpose of the weekly test is to make sure the fire alarm panel receives a signal from a device, usually a manual fire alarm call point (MCP) and that the alarm sounds in all areas. Simply sounding the fire alarm by activating it from the panel isn’t good enough, it must be done from a MCP.

For most fire alarm systems, operating an MCP requires the use of a rather odd shaped black key that fits into a little hole on the side of the MCP. For older systems a screwdriver or alum key might be required to activate the MCP without resorting to breaking the glass. When carrying out your weekly test you will need someone on hand at the fire alarm panel who can silence the system. This keeps disturbance to a minimum because the alarm need not ring for more than a few seconds in order to complete the test.

The relevant British Standard (BS 5839 Part 1) requires a different MCP to be operated each week. So that’s one MCP each week, regardless of how many there are! The best approach is to number them all and record the number of the MCP tested each week, thereby making it easier to track which ones you’ve already tested.

Before carrying out the test isolate any outputs that might shut essential plant down when the fire alarm activates and be sure to notify any alarm receiving centre (ARC) you are connected to. This will save your blushes and potentially your wallet when the Fire & Rescue Service arrive. Don’t laugh, it happens! When the test is over contact the ARC to check they received the fire alarm signal.

The primary purpose of the test is to make sure the fire alarm operates but for many of you there will be outputs to life safety equipment such as fire/smoke curtains or shutters that should descend, fire doors on hold-open devices that should close, doors on escape routes fitted with electronic locks that should release and automatic opening vents that should open, all of which should also be tested. These are known as ‘peripheral’ devices and also includes your vibrating pillow for people who are unable to hear the alarm.

Testing requirements for some of these peripheral devices can be hard to determine but if they are observed to operate correctly when you carry out your weekly fire alarm test that will satisfy most basic testing requirements.

The fire alarm test should be completed on the same day and time each week. There are two reasons for this; one being that team members will become familiar with the timing and treat fire alarm activations at any other time as a real event and also in the hope that team members will query why the fire alarm wasn’t tested at the normal time when in fact it was but they didn’t hear it, hence identifying a potential fault.

Having completed the test you will need to make a record of the test, noting all the peripheral devices you tested or observed to operate and any faults you found. Any faults should be addressed as soon as practically possible to keep your fire alarm system in good working order.

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