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Comments on fire alarm components starting fire
May 30, 2022
Comments on fire alarm components starting fire
          In response to the question about whether or not an alarm system can cause a fire:
          Off the top of my head, I've personally seen seven instances of burned components inside of intrusion and fire alarm control cabinets.  Three were at sites where other electronics had also been damaged, so building power was known to be the blame.  One was the phone capacitors, so a phone line surge was determined to be the blame.  The other three seemed to be random board failures which resulted in what looked to have been a small flame on the main board, two of those were in the battery charging circuitry.  I would say that a control unit has more than a zero percent chance of starting a fire all by itself.
          It took a couple of these instances to get techs I was working with at the time to stop putting manuals inside or on top of the cabinets.  Thank goodness none of the above systems had dried paper leaning up against the mainboard.  Separate document cabinets have been required by code for fire alarm systems for a while now, but that wasn't always the case.  
          Surge suppression on power, and any conductors that originate outside the building are code in some instances, and recommended in all others.
   Thank you.
Scott Messina, Owner
Messina Electronics Support Services
          I had an internal transformer catch fire and thank god only the panel caught fire 
Building employees put out the fire with an extinguisher and customer was reasonable about paying for replacement.
          My take on whether a fire alarm system can actually cause a fire. While nothing is impossible, it should be very unlikely. Every circuit leaving the panel is power limited.          Any relay modules controlling other systems would also be power limited on the alarm side of the relay. The only gray area may be if an output relay were to malfunction and then activate some connected system. Then that connected system would need to malfunction and cause the fire. As far as a residential alarm, that too is power limited up to and including the transformer plugged into the outlet. The only thing not limited is the main battery wiring inside the cabinet. My thought is if the actual alarm system is accused of starting a fire someone is simply looking for a scapegoat. 
Name withheld
          A few years ago, Ademco (as it was then known) came out with a #98 rechargeable power supply/battery for use with their lineup of control panels. No more dry-cell batteries! This was big news in the early 1970's. The #98 used a separate plug-in transformer which had a polystyrene type of plastic case. We experienced those transformers getting extremely hot in normal usage, deforming/melting the case and scorching the wallboard. Could have been a lot worse, thought I, prospectively seeing my equity going up in smoke. We removed all the #98's from service. Pretty scary.
  Anon in Calif
          So I started this discussion thinking that fire alarms, like all low voltage alarms, couldn’t cause a fire, though I know the commercial fire panel is hard wired to 110v.  The issue is justifying the exculpatory provisions in the alarm contract which relies on several positions, one of which is the alarm components are never the cause of the fire [or burglary or whatever is being monitored].  There are other arguments to support the position so we will continue to rely on these protective provisions in the Standard Form Agreements.  You should be mindful that the provisions exculpating liability won’t be enforced if gross negligence is found, so be careful.

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Ken Kirschenbaum,Esq
Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum PC
Attorneys at Law
200 Garden City Plaza
Garden City, NY 11530
516 747 6700 x 301