The fire alarm market can sometimes seem like a quiet segment of the security industry: Everybody needs it and nothing much really seems to change besides some code upgrades.

But don’t be fooled. Fire-related services can be a powerful tool for security dealers and integrators to tie themselves more closely to customers, increase their RMR and leverage their knowledge into increased sales and revenue.

“The core needs of end users have not materially changed; they want to keep their buildings compliant and occupants safe while leveraging technologies that are easy to use and maintain,” says James Taylor, senior offering director, connected life safety services at Honeywell, Charlotte, N.C. “While these core needs are being consistently met, we are seeing shifts in expectations driven by IoT and automation, which includes remote operations capabilities and readily available information.”

The same tech advances that have revolutionized the security industry in general are being adopted for fire services, upending the POTS (plain old telephone service) mindset and providing manufacturers and integrators with great opportunities to upgrade and enhance user systems.

Honeywell Dashboard

Honeywell’s Connected Life Safety Services (CLSS) solution uses a Honeywell panel and the CLSS platform to provide facility managers, dealers and integrators with rich data to support remote operations and other services. // IMAGE COURTESY OF HONEYWELL

Today’s end users and first responders want intuitive, user-friendly fire and life safety systems, says Tom Meyer, strategic accounts manager at Edwards and Kidde Engineered Systems, Bradenton, Fla. “End users ask what additional value their fire alarm systems provide; specifically, leveraging their fire and life safety system for other emergency event notifications, such as shelter-in-place, extreme weather, chemical spills, etc.”

Customers now expect information from their building in real time; if there is a service alarm, they want to see updates sent directly to their mobile device or on a web dashboard, Taylor says. “End users should be able to easily access compliance information, including test and inspection reports, at any time and from any device. … Testing should be quick, with as little disruption to operations as possible. Additionally, any maintenance or update recommendations should be shared with corresponding fire code compliance to help end users make the best decision for their facility.”

In recent years, the transition to cellular communications has made a big impact on the fire safety market, says Duane Warehime, vice president of national accounts at NAPCO Security Technologies, Amityville, N.Y. “For 50 years we’ve been selling systems connected to phone lines. Now carriers are not maintaining them and converting to VOIP, and integrators have been forced to look at alternatives including IP, cellular and radio networks, with cellular being the most popular,” he says.


Today’s fire alarm systems focus on ease of installation and connectivity, which benefits both end users and integrators. Pictured is a technician in the field, installing and programming a NAPCO FireLink panel in New York’s South Street Seaport area. // IMAGE COURTESY OF NAPCO

In the past year, this acceleration to cellular has been dramatic. “Dealers have realized this is the best option; it gives the dealer for the first time complete control over the communications path,” Warehime says. “In the past, you had to deal with the phone companies. If the end user changed carriers, we had to fix things.” Increased cellular use improves the customer experience and makes things easier for the integrator because the equipment is no longer in the hands of the end user. “When it’s built into a panel it becomes the communication path and it’s out of the reach of the end user,” Warehime says. “A lot of dealers enjoy that because it cuts down on service calls.”

Supply Chain Pain

Supply chain pains continue to be felt throughout the security industry, and fire-related products are no exception. Here’s what our subject matter experts had to say about it.

“Everyone has [experienced supply chain issues]; the world is integrated and many components are made by the same companies. These issues have affected us less than some of our competition. The good news is we make our products in the Dominican Republic, not Southeast Asia, so we’re less dependent on components from the Asian marketplace. This has helped us in some situations like alarm control panels. We saw challenges during the worst periods, but our leadership acted quickly and hired additional purchasing personnel to respond. Where necessary, we had to overpay to get components we needed to keep things running. Now it’s getting better for us; chip manufacturers are saying they are discontinuing chips or have 18-month lead times, which has caused some grief, but in the last few months there’s been an uptick. We’re in a better position now, although China’s resurgence of COVID is concerning. We’re not out of the woods yet but we’re better than we were.” — Duane Warehime, NAPCO Security Technologies

“Like everyone else, we did experience some issues. However, our ability to adapt and be agile in a changing environment allowed us to transition our product line to the next generation of products faster than expected. Coupled with our efforts to move all assembly operations to the U.S., [this] helped us navigate the supply chain issues with positive outcomes. Today, all Telguard products are made in the U.S., and there are currently no supply chain issues. This is not to say that there won’t be component shortages in the future, but the experience learned in 2020 and 2021 has made us implement certain protocols at the operational level that allow us to be better prepared for any new issues.” — Daniel Rosales, Telguard

“The supply chain has been very dynamic during the last two years, and we continue to monitor closely, adapting our products and keeping our customers informed. We’re as optimistic as we can be given the previous headwinds.” — Mike Maher, Resideo

“The unprecedented global supply chain environment has impacted many industries, and ours is no exception. Edwards has adapted to these challenges through a variety of opportunities including locating alternative sources of components, investing in reworking products and obtaining agency approvals in a timely manner, as well as additional methods of flexible manufacturing to quickly move between products as needed.” — Tom Meyer, Edwards

“We’ve definitely been experiencing supply chain issues for the better part of a year and a half now; so much so that the company has recently decided to add to our existing building mainly to stock more inventory for fire alarm projects. With the longer lead times we’re currently facing with fire alarm products, we want to make sure we get to customers in a timely manner. We’re ordering more in bulk and need a place to store, so we’re adding 5,000 feet to our warehouse. Notifier and other brands are doing a better job of making bulk parts, so System Sensor devices give you a price break if you buy a bulk pack. … There are a lot more products and we’re having to order in larger amounts so I hope they can do a better job of forecasting.” — Brandon Clig, Custom Alarm

“We have been managing through supply chain and inflation challenges that have impacted the broader economy. We continue to work to mitigate the impact of these challenges to our customers. We are accelerating investment in new products and simplifying our offering to be more resilient to future challenges.” — James Taylor, Honeywell

How to Weather a Recession

Experts agree that fire-related services with an RMR component can be a good way for security dealers and integrators to insulate their businesses against an economic downturn — a valuable asset in light of the current fears of a global recession.

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of integrators growing RMR to bolster their income in uncertain times. “If there is one thing that was quite evident from the impact of the pandemic it is that RMR is the best way to navigate an environment that temporarily prohibits growth,” says Daniel Rosales, senior director technical services at Telguard, Atlanta. “By capturing the RMR that would normally go to telco entities, integrators are maximizing their profitability, which will help them endure situations that inhibit their ability to have new installation and hardware sales. The use of cellular as a way to expand on RMR is an easy proposition, as the difference in cost to the consumer allows for good margins for integrators while providing considerable savings to consumers.”

Brandon Clig, sales manager at Custom Alarm, Rochester, Minn. (SDM’s 2022 Dealer of the Year), agrees. “It’s great to have huge million-dollar sales, but it’s also nice to have a recurring [revenue] aspect to go with it,” says. “We are looking to start offering more general service [through an] RMR model on fire alarm systems we’re installing. We do inspections of fire alarm systems and we’re looking to offer more of a maintenance contract, not only to install up to code but maintain and inspect it annually.”

Fire & Safety Revenue Sources for Integrators

When asked about new and upcoming sources of revenue in fire-related services, sources pointed out the following trends:

Cellular sole path technology. “[This is the] No. 1 service that has continuously and steadily increased in demand as a means to replace redundant POTS lines for connecting to central stations,” says Daniel Rosales, Telguard. “With the recent FCC changes that continue to make it easier for PSTN providers to transition to alternate technologies, the need for a proven technology like cellular continues to be in high demand.”

Existing system upgrades. “Upgrading current systems to take advantage of new capabilities and features provides clear and concise information when an emergency event occurs, helping facility managers to respond quicker, as well as collecting data to reduce troubleshooting and repair times,” says Tom Meyer, Edwards.

More demand for mobile notifications. Fire system end users are seeking more ways to receive notifications from their fire alarm systems, such as notifications regarding alarms, problems and supervisory signals, says Alee Rouhani, DMP. “End users want these to be delivered quickly and they want to be able to easily manage who these notifications are being sent to,” he says. “This is relatively new as end users are seeking ways to take advantage of their mobile devices to ensure everyone is notified in case of an emergency situation.”

4G and 5G wireless connections. These are becoming the new standard as the industry responds to the discontinuation of 3G and POTS, says James Taylor, Honeywell. This means end users need to update their communicators to help prevent disruptions. These communicators are generally simpler to install, more reliable, and capable of connecting to multiple carrier networks, especially if they are dual SIM. “This offers a great recurring revenue stream that moves the cost of a telephone line from the traditional telecom to dealers and integrators.”

More use of video. “As with most of the market, video is becoming more and more prevalent,” Rouhani says. “We are seeing new and creative ways of using video to provide enhanced alarm verification. We have seen this in the intrusion side of the market and have seen how it has gained traction and allowed alarm dealers to create new RMR opportunities. It will be interesting to see how this could potentially transition to the fire side of the market and offer a path of enhanced alarm verification for life safety products.”

More demand for predictive data. More end users, especially those with multiple property assets, are asking for predictive data that notifies them on whether their fire and life safety systems are working correctly, are trouble-free, and are protecting their people and property, Meyer says. “Proactive data features may include email notifications on specific events, loud access to events and system status, integration with other building systems such as a building automation system, and a single pane of glass at an end user’s security operation center.”

Rosales of Telguard reports over the past year, he has seen increased demand for more control and knowledge through services that use panel data to provide insights and other services that help with system testing and maintenance. “Although adoption of such features is still at an early stage, there is huge potential,” he adds.

Added services in the cloud. While RMR from cellular connectivity has been going on for a while, “We are also seeing that added services that come from using the cloud in innovative ways to provide extra test and inspect and other maintenance features as another type of service that is growing in demand and if properly monetized, could bring in extra revenue,” Rosales says.

These can include digital services and cloud-based information collection, Meyer of Edwards adds.

Additionally, “Cloud-based programming for panels and cellular communications have saved dealers money in setting up, and reduced service calls by identifying challenges that can be fixed remotely,” says Duane Warehime of NAPCO. “There’s a lot of savings involved, which translates into increased revenue.”

Bidirectional antenna (BDA) coverage. Dealers and integrators should understand NFPA regulations regarding proper bidirectional antenna coverage in a building, which helps first responders communicate in an emergency. “Honeywell works with partners to help identify opportunities for a new BDA system, installation and ongoing test and inspection maintenance of the system once installed,” Taylor says.

Self-testing detectors. Custom Alarm is focusing on self-testing detectors as an add-on benefit to end users, along with CLSS, which allows remote connectivity through the cloud, says Brandon Clig, sales manager.

Updates related to code changes. “The fire safety category is very code driven, and with any changes made to the home, the fire and CO detectors need to be updated,” says Mike Maher, Resideo. “Code changes add protection, and when you add protection, that usually equates to additional revenue and even services. Professionals can deliver the latest safety [products with the latest codes] and can also take advantage of new revenue in the fire space. The overall penetration for connected smoke/CO alarms is low, which means there is an opportunity to provide connected, life-saving solutions for your customers.”

The fire niche is absolutely a way to weather a market downtown, Warehime adds. “Fire alarm companies are successfully taking cell communications and going to their customer base, cancelling phone lines and putting cell communications on the fire panel — literally just taking over the communications piece from the phone or IP carriers and adding revenue to their bottom line, just by going to their existing customers and upgrading,” he says.

Adding RMR to fire-related services is an incredible sales tool, especially for customers with multiple building locations, Warehime adds. To help its dealers present their case to end users, NAPCO has developed an app for integrators that allows them to plug in the numbers and demonstrate to customers how replacing POTS with cellular can save them money by cancelling phone lines, and more. “If you have thousands of buildings, that’s a big savings,” he adds.

Alee Rouhani, director of marketing at Digital Monitoring Products (DMP), Springfield, Mo., agrees. “Fire alarm systems are a great way for alarm dealers to gain RMR from the monitoring service and also from a service contract,” he says. “The fire alarm segment is a stable part of the market. These systems require inspections and most require monitoring. These are services that will not be going away any time soon.”


More end users are demanding control and knowledge through services that use panel data to provide insights and other services that help with system testing and maintenance. Pictured is a Telguard TG-7FS Fire Alarm Communicator installed at a Costco store location. // IMAGE COURTESY OF TELGUARD

Keeping Up to Code & Beyond

Because the fire-related services niche is so dependent on local codes, it’s important for integrators trying to grow the services to stay current with the latest fire alarm code changes. “In the life safety industry, codes and regulations help drive the demand for fire solutions,” says Mike Maher, senior sales director at Resideo, Austin, Texas. “For example, many states now require smoke detectors in every bedroom and a CO detector on each floor.”

Going beyond the basics can start with something as simple as converting customers from POTS to cellular, stressing the major cost savings for them of eliminating multiple phone lines. “The big thing for me is that surprisingly there are still millions of accounts on POTS that need to be converted,” Warehime says.

Clig adds, “Most end users continue to rely on our company to design systems that meet fire alarm codes; that’s what most end users are looking for,” he says. “We do work with fire marshals and other local building officials to go over additional codes [such as adding voice notification to certain occupancies or adding services such as CO detection].”

Manufacturers Keep Up With Demand

Security manufacturers are developing more products and technologies designed to help dealers and integrators offer more fire-related services. Here are some of the latest service-related products they shared with us.

Digital Monitoring Products (DMP): DMP offers a mass notification service through its Virtual Keypad, Alee Rouhani says. The service allows end users to easily set up custom notifications that can be sent to desired personnel via email, text messages or push notifications. “This is a powerful feature that allows alarm dealers to offer a service that provides direct notifications to their end users,” he says.

Honeywell: “Honeywell is on a clear path to connect traditionally unconnected, building-specific detection and alarming systems to a simple, scalable and connected solution,” James Taylor says. Honeywell’s Connected Life Safety Services (CLSS) solution uses a Honeywell panel and the CLSS platform to provide facility managers, dealers and integrators with rich data to support remote operations and other services. “Through our work with communicator companies as well as our own CLSS pathway, we can provide the benefits of CLSS to non-Honeywell panels too, including greater connectivity and cost-effective fire-related services.”

NAPCO: The company’s StarLink line of alarm reporting solutions has long been a market favorite. Now it’s introducing StarLink Max, which integrates an LTE-M chip that is most advanced for alarm communications, says Duane Warehime. “Dealers report improved reception and longer life spans than other technologies,” he says. “And the Max chip we’re using offers integrators the ability to upgrade to more advanced 5G as they become available.”

Telguard: “Telguard has been at the forefront of providing that cellular alternative that not only provides extra RMR for integrators, but perhaps more importantly, also gives the control over the communication path as opposed to POTS connects, which are managed by property managers,” says Daniel Rosales. “As of the past couple of years, Telguard has also engaged in partnerships with companies like Honeywell to provide access to features like Honeywell CLSS cloud.”

Starting with bare-bones code compliance, integrators can go on to sell customers on enhanced systems. “Most consumers care about meeting minimum requirements at low cost,” Rosales says. “When marketing fire services, it’s best to first try and be the provider for every aspect of the system, and provide a full view of the services and cover the alternatives. Start with the overall picture, where the integrator supplies and controls as much as possible. For example, rather than offer to monitor a fire system with existing phone lines where an integrator only charges for installation and monitoring, market the monitoring solution as being inclusive of the path itself (e.g., cellular) and cover how maintaining phone lines as the alternative would be more costly. Allow your vision for the system, which includes you collecting RMR, to be the primary solution that gets compared to other alternatives, and not the other way around.”