There is no question that the fire alarm industry is a mature, compliance-driven market. With a mature market comes slower growth and with compliance comes low margins. Yet while the fire industry cannot compare to the sizzle of video, the interactive-charged growth of intrusion, or the integration and cloud expansion of access control, there still are growth opportunities and advancements to capitalize on in 2014.

In this year’s market, growth is coming from newer technologies including emergency communications systems (ECS) and mass notification systems (MNS), carbon monoxide (CO) products and legislation, Internet protocol (IP) and wireless options. These, coupled with a very strong retrofit market (due to the new technologies and options), are driving the 2014 fire market.

“The fire industry’s heyday is long gone. It is a compliance-driven market, and while codes and standards still require these systems, all the value is rung out of it,” says Shawn Mullen, president and chief executive officer (CEO), Protex Central Inc., Hastings, Neb.

If a business is looking at just a fire system, especially in new construction, it is all about who has the cheapest price and who can install it the fastest. That is a highly competitive space with low margins. The key to growth is to find the value add, Mullen shares.

“We continue to do that new construction space — you can’t get away from it — but any chance we have, we’ll go back to our customers where we perform inspections or services and talk to them about NFPA requirements for emergency communications or show them how we take the existing fire alarm system into a better fire system and an emergency system. That is new, exciting, and a value add that wins business,” Mullen emphasizes.

Emergency response is a key growth area in the 2014 market.

“We anticipate emergency communication systems will be a major trend due to a lot of the events that have happened over the last several years — and a growing awareness of what is available,” shares Richard Conner, director of Marketing, Fire-Lite, Silent Knight, Honeywell Power, Honeywell Fire Systems Americas, Northford, Conn.

Codes are driving growth, he adds, as more and more jurisdictions adopt newer versions of NFPA 72 and the awareness of UL 2572 for emergency communications increases. Conner predicts it will help generate a lot of projects or installations.

ECSs have evolved to be functional and broadly appealing, which will only help dealers close deals.

“We have had customers reach into other budgets to fund these emergency systems because those systems have evolved to relate to safety, health, and wellness — and the benefits of getting the right message to the right person at the right time,” says Mullen, a NOTIFIER dealer for 48 years.

As part of the drive to get the message out, EMC systems are expanding into multiple areas of communication, social media included. Incorporating text messages and social media into mass communications fits the trend of everyone using their phone, Conner observes.

He also reports an increase this year in MNS for smaller campuses. “Dealers today aren’t limited to big campuses. New technologies are moving MNS into other verticals such as office buildings, small campuses, large warehouses, and even churches,” Conner says.

Mathew Amerman, president and CEO, Intelligrated Communications Inc., Phoenix, a Farenhyt Select Distributor for Silent Knight by Honeywell, shares that voice evacuation systems and MNS have jumped by “leaps and bounds” — growing into new markets and increasing in capabilities.

Today’s system can have two messages playing at the same time and can also override fire systems, which is a huge change from just a few years ago when fire trumped everything. “With all the events happening in schools, movie theaters, malls and more, having the ability to have people lock down and find safety , but then not having someone pull the fire alarm and blow the whole thing is huge,” Amerman points out.

He is installing many systems in schools, which are moving past “old-school” intercom systems and instead utilizing the emergency communication systems as the new intercom system.

“Schools today can do morning announcements over the emergency communication system,” Amerman says. He notes the major growth for his business in 2014 is in the educational market, especially in the Phoenix metropolitan area.


New Construction To Rise

2013 did not produce nonresidential building activity that was as strong as initially expected. In fact, spending levels largely unchanged from 2012.

 “The commercial segment of the industry grew at slower rate in 2013 due to financial concerns, and market fears,” remarks Brandt Phillips, commercial fire and security director of sales, Napco Security Technologies Inc., Amityville, N.Y.

However, Kermit Baker, AIA Chief Economist, reports that AIA Consensus Construction Forecast panelists do expect 2014 to generate building activity increasing 5.8 percent overall, including a double-digit gain for commercial facilities.

SDM subscribers are reporting new construction growth.

“The majority of new fire alarm systems are installed during the construction process and in the start of 2014 we are have seen an increase in requests for new systems for these buildings and the construction industry in general,” shares John Stukenberg, regional sales manager, NICET Level IV, Communications Engineering Company (CEC), Hiawatha, Iowa.


Communication Changes

The growth of IP-based and GSM transmission methods, alongside the decline of POTS, remains a pressing change within the industry. Panels continue to offer new options, authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) continue to change their requirements to accommodate the evolution, and the codes are changing.

Craig Summers, national sales manager, Fire and Security Division, Potter Electric Signal Company, St. Louis, points out that as the NFPA 72 2013 edition is adopted across the country, the way a fire alarm is required to communicate to a central station will drastically change.

“The old dual phone line DACTs that are still being installed in large numbers today will give way to newer IP and wireless communication options. NFPA 72 2013 edition requires the use of an alternate technology such as IP, cellular, or radio, as a backup anytime a phone line is used to communicate to the central station. This new requirement will significantly reduce the amount of fire alarm systems using phone lines to communicate to a central station,” Summers explains.

Alternative communications will help the dealer save his customers money on telephone lines that are going away. “It is an upsell for the dealer,” Conner says. “Dealers can go in and talk to the customer with something new.”

In addition to new communication options, wireless products will play a role in the 2014 market, reducing labor and material costs, and providing an alternative for various applications.

UL listed commercial wireless fire initiating devices “enable us to provide protection in buildings and applications where it was not previously possible; be it historic buildings where wiring is not possible, large facilities where it is simply too expensive to invest in wiring, in remodel applications, and in areas where existing conduit is damaged,” describes Napco’s Phillips.

Elk Products is capitalizing on wireless to offer a new ELK-6050 Wireless Smoke Detector, which provides a two-way wireless solution with signal acknowledgement and built-in sounder. “This helps dealers meet the new laws requiring sounders and smoke detectors in every bedroom, in addition to every common point of egress,” says David Steele, chief engineer, ELK Products, Hildebran, N.C., a manufacturer of security and automation solutions.

In the event of a fire alarm, whether detected by the ELK-6050 or another source, ELK’s two-way wireless technology allows ELK M1 Controls to activate the built-in sounders of all enrolled smoke detectors during the alarm, which is a welcome capability, Steele shares.

There are new requirements for sounders in 2014, as well.

In the 2009 edition of NFPA 720, the code states that audible appliances in sleeping areas are required to produce a low frequency alarm signal (T4) for CO detection. It also requires that audible (CO) alarm must be annunciated separately from a fire alarm. Prior to 2009, NFPA 720 only referenced 1 and 2 family dwellings. In the 2012 edition, the code was expanded to include sleeping areas in commercial spaces. This goes into effect January 1, 2015. The 2010 edition of NFPA 72 requires that sleeping rooms must have low frequency audible and high intensity strobes for fire notification. For audible messages, the preamble must be a 520 Hz sounder with T3 pattern,” according to Eaton’s Cooper Notification.

Eaton’s Cooper Notification also explained the reason for the changes: “When the Fire Protection and Research Foundation (FPRF) studied the effectiveness of alarms for emergency notification of high risk groups, it found a “square wave sound with a fundamental frequency in the lower ranges (i.e. 520 Hz) to be more effective than the current high pitched smoke alarm signal across a range of populations (children, older adults, sober young adults, alcohol impaired young adults and adults who are hard of hearing),” states the company.

 “You will begin to see combined solutions to meet both low frequency sounder requirements for new construction and retrofit projects for hotel and motel guest rooms, college and university dormitories, and assisted living facilities,” says Ted Milburn, vice president marketing, Eaton's Cooper Notification, Long Branch, N.J.

System Sensor points out that low frequency requirements go beyond the reach of NFPA 72. “In response to the NFPA 72 changes for low frequency smoke and fire alarms in sleeping rooms, the 2012 International Fire Code (IFC)/International Building Code (IBC) indirectly requires a low frequency signal in certain occupancies because the 2010 edition of NFPA 72 is referenced in Chapter 80 of the IFC and Chapter 35 of the IBC. Section 907.2 in the 2012 edition of the IFC/IBC requires a fire alarm system to be installed in new buildings in accordance with NFPA 72 and provide occupant notification in accordance with section,” System Sensor explains.

With fresh new technologies, new codes and requirements, and an expected increase in construction, the mature fire market has plenty of potential this year for the dealers willing to tackle it.

Mullen plans to grow by providing fire as a solution, not a marginalized low-price offering. He says, “In our view, the ‘secret sauce’ is to provide a real solution to the customer.” He emphasizes that is where the better value is — and where the real margin is, which is critical in a mature industry such as fire alarm.


Historic Hotel Values Information & Detailed Notification

The Ponchartrain Hotel in Detroit, named for the original title given to the area by French settlers, was erected in 1965. When the two-story tall, 422-room hotel was resurrected in 2012 by Crowne Plaza Hotels and Resorts, it had a dated, conventional, non-addressable fire system. The original system had a zone configuration with selective signaling (floor above/floor below) and was configured with audio voice evacuation capabilities. There were typically three zones per floor; one for water flow, one for common area or general alarm, and one for the guest room smoke detectors. This zoned configuration made it extremely difficult to determine the exact location of an alarm or trouble on the system.

Fire Pros, Grand Rapids, Mich., the contractor for the project, chose an addressable system from Potter to distribute intelligent power and system expanders throughout the facility. Fire Pros technicians installed nine PSN 1000(E) power supply units, 12 remote SLC cards, two remote annunciators, and voice evacuation throughout the building due to the flexibility of the P-Link circuit on the Potter P400 panel. They also incorporated firefighter telephones and elevator recall to ensure the safety of patrons as well as firefighters.

With easily accessible information on hand at all times, the hotel staff can properly manage any potential dilemma. Problems such as guest disputes over smoking in non-smoking rooms, and pinpointing exact alarm locations in a building of such magnitude, can be solved with e-mail reporting. Johnson says, “It is nice to have a technical reference for what has transpired. It really helps us properly manage every situation on site, which is important because our staff wants to stay ahead of any situation; being proactive as opposed to reactive.”


City of Chicago Approves Fike Fire Alarm System for High-Rise Applications

Fike, Blue Springs, Mo., received the City of Chicago’s approval for high-rise applications for its CyberCat 1016 and 254 control systems. These UL- and FM-approved fire alarm control panels were first accepted for Class I and Class II applications by Chicago in 2009. This new approval allows for equipment use in high-rise applications (above 80 feet) where two-way voice communications are required.

Important to the city’s approval, Fike’s integrated CyberCat fire alarm/voice system has a built in backup amplifier integrated with its existing amplifier. Fike reports, “True critical component redundancy is achieved for a fraction of the cost of installing a complete backup voice amplifier.”

This additional approval represents the potential for greater fire detection and protection in high-rise buildings, according to Fike.


SDM asked, “Where is the potential for sales in 2014?”


“Additional ways to conserve energy and reduce costs for new construction and retrofit projects are important to designers and builders who are looking for solutions in 2014 that could replace existing technology, providing not only best-in-class efficiency, but also material and system cost savings for their customers. Also, in 2014, you will see an increase in infrastructure projects such as data centers, petro-chemical plants, and smart grid facilities.” — Ted Milburn, Eaton's Cooper Notification


“At Napco, we expect to see continued strong growth in retail, general commercial facilities, manufacturing facilities, and a new segment we call Fire-Watch Mitigation Systems. As an example, our dealers are enjoying sales growth by utilizing Napco’s Fire-Watch Mitigation Systems that enable dealers to avoid the high costs of funding a staffed fire watch during construction and remodeling of buildings.”— Brandt Phillips, Napco Security Technologies


 “It is in codes! Because our existing healthcare customers face heavy state and federal regulation, that market continues to provide good opportunity for our fire alarm services and system sales. The majority of new fire alarm system installs are driven by the IBC building code requirements, with many retrofits still being driven by the ADA codes as well.” — John Stukenberg, Communications Engineering Company