History of Fire Alarm System

Translated by Alexandra Igna (2019)


fire detectorThe development of fire detector technology takes us back to ancient times. However, a serious leap took place during the 19th century. It was at that time that people started to comprehend all their ideas more vividly.

In this article, we will speak about the development of fire alarm systems that can protect both separate, individual rooms and a city in its entirety.


First Notification Methods

The very first fire alarms were rudimental. People would use various rattles, beat loudly with sticks, shouted, blew over a hearth or rang bells. This was a slow, inefficient method that was mostly used in small cities with low-height buildings.

Once cities started to be developed and grow, “Kalanchi” began to be built - the observation towers used by police officers on duty, where they would track fires day and night. They used telescopes, but in large cities, at night or in bad weather conditions, it was difficult to determine the exact location of the fire. The speed at which police officers could communicate with firefighters also left much to be desired.

This went on until the telegraph apparatus was invented and which has been actively used since the 1850s. Thus, information about a fire was transmitted to all parts of the city in 5 minutes. The firemen team could quickly receive the information and go do their rescue job.


Leap In Development

Alarm bell

In time, people started thinking about the need for internal fire alarms. One of the first fire detector models was an alarm bell that was associated with a cargo that burned out during a fire and thereby actuated the alarm mechanism.

Despite the fact that, in comparison with a bell tower, a bell allowed to detect a fire faster, this was still not enough.

Therefore, the bell was improved - along the ceilings, a cord was drawn through the entire room, which burned in a fire. The result was a prototype of modern linear addressable alarms.


electric fire alarmAnother model was the manual detector that relied on telegraphy to call firefighters. Compared to past devices, such a system was trouble-free and accurate. It was used until 1890.

At that time, Francis Robbins Upton and Fernando Dibble patented the first automatic heat detector. The original design included electric batteries, a bell dome, an open-circuit magnet and a thermostatic device. The detector could identify an increase in temperature with the help of a thermostatic device. Next, the circuit between the battery and the magnet would close and the alarm bell would signal a fire.

In the mid-20s during the 20th century, Walter Yeager worked on a sensor that could detect poisonous gases. However, as a result of an unsuccessful experiment and an accidentally smoked cigarette during the experiment, he found out that the sensor could respond to smoke. This discovery allowed him to invent a compact smoke detector by the age of 40. The smoke detector was so small in size that it could fit in one's palm, but could, at the same time, withstand the blow of a hammer.


First Alarm System

First Alarm SystemThe first fire alarm system that enabled the automatic notification of the fire department was introduced in the United States in 1935. The detector was a thermostat, which, upon reaching the set temperature threshold, activated the warning mechanism. The device rang the fire station and it also included a pre-recorded voice message. The equipment was very compact and it could easily fit a small cabinet.


Standalone Sensors

Scientific discoveries in the field of chemistry during the Manhattan project led to a reduction in the cost of smoke detectors. This helped Dwayne D. Purcell to design the first battery powered home detector in 1965. These detectors were shaped like a hornet’s nest. Gradually, the steel case was replaced with a plastic one, and the initial battery with two AA batteries.

The rechargeable battery of the detector was specially developed by Gates Energy. However, soon the need for a quick replacement of the power element became apparent, as a result of which, the battery was replaced with two AA batteries, and the detector case was manufactured using plastic. The small Statirol Corporation production line produced approximately 500 detectors per day until the patent was sold to Emerson Electric in 1980. Emerson was able to widely distribute the detectors to every home in the United States.


Modern Alarm

Later on, the non-conventional threshold detectors were invented. They have taken over up to 90% of the Russian market. The problem with these detectors is the lack of an alarm, as much of a paradox as this might sound. The absence of the alarm means that there is either no fire or that the detector is out of order. Therefore, even in small rooms, at least two pieces of detectors of this type are installed - in case one of them fails.

The advent of addressable fire detectors has reduced the number of communication lines at the facility by transmitting information from the detector to the dashboard via a single address bus. The cost of installing and maintaining these detectors has decreased significantly, but the disadvantages of threshold systems have remained.

These shortcomings are fixed in address-analog systems, which do not usually detect cigarette smoke, but which cost more. The control panels of such systems also analyze the situation at the facility and can track the spread of fire. In small buildings and their premises, such functions are superfluous, but in large enterprises they can be useful.



Fire alarm systems have gone through fast-paced development and they managed to achieve great success in 100 years. Further development trends include attempts to increase accuracy and reduce response time, as well as the transition to Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.



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