We all know that fire alarms are critical for our safety, but there are many different fire alarm system options available when you are building a new facility or remodeling an existing one. In the following paragraphs we’ll discuss several different kinds of fire alarm systems, and the pros and cons of each. Ready? Let’s get started!

Single Station Systems

One of the first decisions you’ll likely have to make is whether to install a monitored fire alarm system or an unmonitored one. Monitored fire alarm systems notify emergency services automatically, while unmonitored systems do not. 

The single station system is an unmonitored fire alarm system that is connected to pull stations, sprinkler heads, heat sensors and smoke detectors. Its purpose is to alert anyone in the facility of the fire, but it does not alert the fire department automatically. This system works well if people are around, but if the property is vacant you run the risk of losing your valuable property. 

Monitored Fire Alarm Systems

Monitored fire alarm systems are linked with the fire department through a network connection, cellular dialer or a phone line to automatically notify emergency services whenever it detects a fire. When the fire alarm is activated, the system transmits a message to the monitoring station, which then sends the signal to the fire department.

With a monitored fire alarm system, emergency responders will take action in just a few moments. This can make the difference between an inconvenience and a tragedy.

Photoelectric, Ionization, and Combination Systems

Fire alarms work on 3 basic systems: photoelectric, ionization, or a combination of the two. Here is how they work:


For smoldering fires, photoelectric systems are more suitable. Smoke emanating from smoldering fires is different from raging flames. The photoelectric system transmits a beam of light in a chamber. Smoke creeping into this chamber deflects the light which then strikes a photoelectric light detector. The sensor is activated and gives off the alarm.


Ionization systems are best suited for sensing flames. The alarm works with the help of radioactive material situated between 2 charged plates. This configuration creates a constant flow of ionized air across the plates. When smoke makes its way into this space, it disrupts this ionized air flow, in turn triggering the alarm. Thus, fire systems using the ionization principal work by detecting smoke given off by fires.


Combination system make use of both photoelectric and ionization systems to get the best of both worlds. The advantage of the dual approach is that you are able to benefit from the advantages of both principals for a more comprehensive and versatile system.

By using both methodologies, the combination system can maximize the performance of your fire alarm system. 

There is plenty of debate on which fire alarm system is optimal for you. The United States Fire Administration recommends that you equip your property with both types of fire alarms (photoelectric and ionization) or use a combination system (which contains both photoelectric and ionization mechanisms). 

This approach is best since there is no telling what kind of fire will break out – smoldering or a flaming fire.


If you are not certain of the kind of fire system that your property is equipped with, or if you have not had your fire system inspected for quite a while, contact us and we’ll set up a time for our NICET certified technicians to come and have a look. We look forward to hearing from you!