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Saving Lives: Beyond the Municipal Codes

July 6, 2010

A Basic Fire Alarm Lexicon
Life safety devices in private dwellings usually mean smoke detection devices which trigger sound when activated. Smoke detection devices are either alarms that detect and trigger sound or detectors, often referred to as sensors, that are part of an alarm system. Smoke detection devices are activated by microscopic particle matter contained within the smoke. Heat detection devices are generally not considered “life safety devices”. Heat sensors react when the surrounding temperature reaches a certain level, and because smoke dispersal is faster than heat dispersal, smoke detectors are generally quicker to respond to a fire. Heat sensors are preferable in locations such as garages and ventilation closets where there is a higher incidence of dust which might activate a smoke detection device.

A local alarm is an alarm that will emit an audible noise to anyone within earshot, but will not register at a central station located away from the residence.
A monitored alarm will register at a central station, typically the alarm monitoring company, which will in turn contact the police or fire department. Most municipalities will not permit a signal from the actual alarm system to register directly with the police and fire department. A monitored system should be installed by state-licensed alarm contractors. (Note: request a copy of their license.)
Radio transmission device(s) allow alarm signals to be transmitted wirelessly to the central station monitoring company, either as the primary alert or as a backup communication method. According to Keith Fisher of Keyth Technologies, long range wireless radio is swiftly becoming the industry standard method for alarm systems to transmit and communicate their emergency signals.

A certificated alarm system is one which an Underwriters Laboratories (UL)-listed alarm company declares that an alarm service has been installed that complies with UL standards. A certificated alarm system is subject to random audit by UL alarm system auditors to check compliance. According to UL, the majority of alarm systems in the U.S. are not certificated. A system that has a certificate complies with nationally recognized standards and codes.

Wireless technology has made it easier to retrofit a home with additional smoke and heat sensors without having to tear up the walls.
Carbon monoxide sensors (either local alarms or monitored detectors), should be on all levels of a home. (Visit for more information on carbon monoxide.) Many municipalities require carbon monoxide detection devices.

The National Fire Prevention Authority (NFPA)
The NFPA ( is a worldwide leader in promoting fire, electrical, building, and life safety. This international nonprofit organization provides and advocates consensus codes, standards, research, training and education to reduce the threat of fire and other hazards. The National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code known as NFPA 72 is one of their standards. Municipal residential building codes sometimes include provisions which modify the requirements of NFPA 72. For example, many residential building codes mandate only one audible fire alarm per floor rather than the targeted placement of alarms stipulated by the NFPA. (See Appendix for NFPA required and recommended device placement).

Fire Statistics
Evidence that effective protection systems save lives is not just anecdotal. Keith Fisher points out, “Data relating to fires provide firm reasons to equip your home or business with the best possible life safety systems.” A study by the NFPA in March 2010 entitled “Home Structure Fires” found that 92 percent of all fire deaths in the U.S. occur in home fires, an average of 2,840 deaths each year. In addition,
23 percent of home fire fatalities occurred when smoke alarms failed to operate, indicating the importance of having properly installed and maintained detection devices. For multi-unit residential buildings, the fatality rate was 83 percent lower when wet-pipe sprinkler systems were present than when no automated extinguishing equipment was installed.

Chartwell’s View
Our position is that monitored alarms which adhere to NFPA 72 standards can both limit fire damage (assuming a prompt arrival of the fire department) and potentially improve life safety. When the home is empty there will be a rapid response from the fire department whereas with (unmonitored) smoke alarms there is no mechanism to alert the fire department. An audible-only system is better than no system, but even if someone is in the home, carbon monoxide can cause disorientation in less than three minutes. There is also the chance of being trapped by the blaze and so using the telephone could quickly become impossible. Especially for residents with limited mobility or younger children who might not be able to exit as quickly as adults, an automatic response from the fire department can speed an evacuation. There is a cost to the more sophisticated monitored alarm systems. If a client does not want to consent to an insurer’s requirement to upgrade the alarm system then Chartwell will certainly work to secure alternative coverage. We believe, however, that fire life safety in the home is not an area where parsimony is rewarded; do you want minimum compliance with a local code, or do you want the best protection available for you and your family?

Chartwell Bulletins are produced by Chartwell Insurance Services, Inc., an independent insurance broker specializing in the personal asset protection of high net worth individuals. Chartwell Bulletins address issues of general interest and since coverages vary by company and by state should not be taken as an interpretation of a particular policy or advice on any individual situation. Chartwell Insurance Services, Inc. is not affiliated with Keyth Technologies and does not accept compensation for referrals to them.

A representative of Chartwell Insurance Services, Inc. will be pleased to discuss all aspects of your personal insurance.  Contact: Rebecca Korach Woan | 312. 645.1200 |