Fire Alarm Testing

Canadian Fire Alarm Association –The Journal February 2010

Originally Published in SP&T News March 2004



What a Fire Alarm Technician


Testing and repairing fire alarm systems is not a field to enter without the facts. Restrictions about who is licensed or permitted to work on fire alarm systems vary among the provinces and territories. If you are qualified to work on fire alarms systems, there are accepted tasks you can and cannot do.

The Fire Code is the document that deals with the testing and inspection of fire alarm systems. Section 6.3, ” Fire Alarm and Voice Communication Systems for Life Safety”, specifies that testing and inspections must be done in accordance with CAN/ULC-S536 Standard for the Inspection and Testing of Fire Alarm Systems.

(Subsection 1.1.5. of the Ontario Fire Code [applicable only in Ontario] states that any person who performs tests or annual inspections and any person who repairs, replaces or alters components of a fire alarm system must have successfully completed a specified training program.)

Having the qualifications does not open the door to all tasks dealing with a fire alarm system. You may have the qualifications, you may have the skills, but there are restrictions. The following provides some guidance.


Test and inspect as required by the Fire Code

A qualified fire alarm technician can do all of the tests and inspections set out in the Standard for the Inspection and Testing of Fire Alarm Systems. Smoke detector testing usually requires specialized equipment to perform the sensitivity testing. Merely testing detectors with a smoke test aerosol is not sufficient to meet the requirements of the standard.

Replace fire detectors and alarm signals

A qualified fire alarm technician can replace manual pull stations, heat detectors, smoke detectors, alarm bells, horns, speakers and visual alarm signals provided that the devices are the same model, are electrically compatible with the fire alarm system and have the same area of coverage.

Inspect, test and verify devices

A qualified fire alarm technician can inspect, test and verify fire detectors and alarm signals that are newly installed or relocated in the same fire zone. Knowledge of the requirements in CAN/ULC-S524 Standard for the Installation of Fire Alarm Systems and the manufacturer’s specifications for the device is necessary. The ability to make sound level measurements may be required for audible signal testing.

Replace some parts

Replacement fuses, lamps, plug-in modules, relays and batteries must be done using parts defined by the fire alarm manufacturers’ literature.

Maintain Batteries

Battery maintenance, such as cleaning battery terminals and replenishing battery electrolyte in wet cell batteries, can be performed. Adjustments to battery chargers can be done if those procedures are available from the panel manufacturer. The battery discharge tests described in the CAN/ULC-S536 standard, article 6.3.2 involve more than turning off the AC power and seeing if the system operates on standby battery.

Complete and sign the inspection and test records

Once testing is finished, the technician can complete the documentation and sign it. The document is a requirement of the Fire Code. It demonstrates that the system has been tested in accordance with the standard and it also identifies who took responsibility for testing the fire alarm system.


Change fire detectors or alarm signals

Changing the type of fire detector should not be undertaken. The detector type was selected for a specific reason: a mandatory code requirement, early fire detection properties, area of coverage, or environmental considerations. Adding heat or smoke detectors is also problematic. Additional detectors may exceed the detector circuit capability and impact on the power supply capacity. Any additional wiring must meet the requirements of the electrical code. System software changes may be necessary in fire alarm systems with addressable detectors.

Changing fire alarm signals may affect audibility levels. Increasing the audibility by using other signals with greater sound level output or by adding signals inevitably impacts on the signal circuit loading and demands on the power supply and standby battery. Requirement 3.6 of CAN/ULC-S536 addresses additions, deletions or alterations to field devices.


Programming changes to fire alarm systems are not tasks that a fire alarm technician should undertake alone, whether the changes are made by altering diode panels, cutting jumper wires, changing the position of dip-switches, or keying in software changes. The fire alarm system operation was described as part of the building approval process. Alterations to programming could have a serious impact on the level of life safety in the building. Requirement 3.5 of CAN/ULC-S536 discusses additions, deletions or alterations to the control panel, whether those changes to the system are in firmware, software or hardware.

Change timer intervals

Setting the correct time on a system clock is acceptable but changing the settings of internal system timers is not. The Building Code establishes some timing functions for various building sizes and occupancies. Changing the duration of fire alarm functions could impact on the battery discharge. Timing changes may also impact on the approved building Fire Safety Plan procedures.

 Alter auxiliary circuits and off site monitoring

Alterations to ancillary equipment and wiring can affect the established level of building life safety. The Building Code regulates many ancillary functions controlled by the fire alarm system, such as smoke control, electromagnetic locks and elevator recall. The Building Code and standards even address the connections between the building fire alarm system and a central station or monitoring company. In fact, a new ULC standard CAN/ULC-S561 Installation and Services for Fire Signal Receiving Centres and Systems describes requirements for monitoring fire alarm systems.

The “cannot do” list is long but does not imply that the fire alarm technician is incapable of doing the work. Indeed it will probably be this person doing the work. The point is that the individual should not be making these decisions alone or even with the building owners permission. These cannot do items impact on the building life safety and in the code driven field of fire alarm systems approval from the appropriate authority having jurisdiction is necessary before undertaking changes on the cannot do list.


Dave Goodyear is president of D. Goodyear Fire Consulting and is a member of many Underwriters’ Laboratories of Canada fire alarm committees.