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In order to protect your home or business from the risk of fire, you're going to need to install an effective fire alarm system. Now, we all know that a fire alarm alerts you that there is a potential fire present or an irregular amount of smoke in your property, but how do they actually work? And what makes them different from a regular smoke alarm? IDS Security is here to let you know!

How Do Fire Alarms Work

Smoke Alarms 

Firstly, we need to understand that a fire alarm system isn't complete without a smoke alarm. A smoke alarm makes up a fire alarm system in that it is the sensor that first detects the possibility of a fire in your home or business through increased levels of smoke. This tiny device, packed with electronics and small amounts of radioactive material is responsible for reducing the number of fire deaths in half since its wide-spread adoption in commercial and domestic settings. 

How do smoke alarms work?

Smoke alarms fall into one of two categories; ionisation or photoelectric. Ionisation smoke alarms were introduced before photoelectric alarms and are considered effective at detecting flaming fires. Photoelectric smoke alarms, on the other hand, are effective at detecting fires in their early stages. 

Ionisation smoke alarms - As we've mentioned, these smoke alarms are effective at detecting advanced fires and work similarly to how a window sensor intruder alarm works. Here, there is an electrical circuit present and when this circuit is broken, the alarm sounds. The only difference between an ionisation smoke alarm and an intruder alarm is there is no physical contact between the two sensors. They work in the following way:

  1. Wires extend from both the positive and negative ends of a battery in the detector. 
  2. These wires attach to separate electrodes. 
  3. The electrodes complete a circuit but not in a physical sense. Instead, Americium-241 (a radioactive material) transforms the air molecules between the electrodes into positive and negative ions. 
  4. These charged ions between the two plates complete the circuit.
  5. In the process of a fire, smoke enters the smoke alarm through holes or slits in the housing unit. 
  6. Both positive and negative ions seek the smoke, not the plates.
  7. The circuit is then broken and the alarm sounds. 

Photoelectric smoke alarms - Also known as optical smoke alarms, photoelectric smoke alarms alert you when an LED light within the alarm chamber is broken. These alarms are capable of detecting a fire in the early stages before it breaks out into a fully-fledged fire. These smoke alarms work in the following way:

  1. An LED casts light in a straight line across the inner chamber. 
  2. A photoelectric sensor at the opposite end detects the light, notifying the system that the circuit is complete. 
  3. Smoke enters the alarm housing and interrupts the light, redirecting it to a different sensor.
  4. When this other sensor detects the light, an alarm is sounded. 


Fire Alarms and How They Work

Fire alarms are slightly different to smoke alarms, in that a smoke alarm simply detects when there are unusual levels of smoke present in the immediate area. Fire alarms, on the other hand, detect the high levels of smoke and then act on it. The sensors are connected to an alarm system that blares out when the detection system is activated. Some fire alarm systems come with an attached sprinkler system that sprays down water from your ceiling in an attempt to put out the fire. However, if your fire alarm system does not include this, it is going to alert both you and your nearest fire brigade to put the fire out. 

The differences between smoke and fire alarms 

The main difference between smoke and fire alarms are:

  • A smoke alarm simply acts as a sensor and detects the smoke, while a fire alarm acts on it. 
  • A fire alarm system consists of several different devices, all connected together to give your home or business protection against fire. It can alert and even take countermeasures against the fire if it has been integrated with the correct appliances.
  • As we spoke about at the beginning of this blog, a smoke detector is usually integrated into a fire alarm system. It forms a part of it and is required in order to perform its functions effectively. 


Our Fire Alarm Systems 

Here at IDS Security, we specialise in the design, installation and maintenance of fire alarm systems for commercial, public and residential properties. We cover all categories of fire detection system, from conventional formats through to large, networked, multi-panel addressable systems. If you would like to request a quotation for your own fire alarm system, please call 02920 753 251 to speak with a fire protection specialist at our office in Cardiff, or email us at

Learn More About Our Fire Alarms >

School fire alarm system

Schools and colleges must do what they can protect students and staff members from fire. A well-maintained fire alarm system is one of the most crucial components of that effort.


The Regulatory Reform Order, or RRO, is the UK's legislative document about fire alarms operation and installation. This document is broken down into several sections and subsections can be difficult to digest if you're not a fire safety professional. So, in this blog, we aim to give you a bite-sized version of the UK's fire alarm regulations. 


While the police and ambulance services equate for the majority of emergency call outs in the UK, the fire service is far from underused, with an incredible number of hazards attended throughout the year.

The sheer volume of fire-related emergency calls alone is proof that fires are a very real immediate danger to us all and not just something that affects other people.

As such, a working fire alarm is a vital piece of equipment for any property and efficient fire alarm maintenance to keep it in working order year-round is just as important.


fire alarm maintenance


Fire Statistics UK

According to the website, England’s Fire & Rescue Services attended over 167,000 fires between April 2017 and March 2018.

Incredibly, those figures equate to just around 460 fires a day on average – a sobering statistic that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Worse still, over 74k of these incidents were classified as “primary fires”, defined as any fire that occurs in a non-derelict building, vehicle or outdoor structure.

Of these, over 30k fires occurred in “dwellings” (i.e. houses, flats and caravans), while over 15.5k fires occurred in “other buildings” – including public venues like hotels, shops and restaurants – as well as places of work, such as offices, factories and warehouses.


Professional Fire Alarm Maintenance

Whether you’re responsible for fire alarm systems in a commercial setting, a public location or a residential property, efficient and effective fire alarm maintenance is of vital importance.

At IDS, we not only specialise in fire alarm design and installation, we also provide a professional maintenance package that’s tailored to you and your fire alarm system.

Our comprehensive fire alarm maintenance contract provides an extensive aftercare service, providing you with a reliable 24/7 call out service, for system monitoring at your beck and call.


Types of Fire Alarm Maintenance

Whether you have a conventional, addressable or wireless fire alarm, our expert staff can be on hand in no time to fix any manner fire alarm maintenance issues.

Any day, any time, we can be there to ensure your fire protection system is operating at full working capacity and functioning at optimal performance to keep you, the property and its contents safe.

With over 20 years of experience in the industry, we pride ourselves on providing you with a service that offers genuine peace of mind that money can’t buy.

Don’t take the risk: stay protected with IDS fire alarm maintenance services today.


For more information, call 029 20 753 251 now or click the button below to get in touch online.

Get in Touch

Choosing the right fire alarm for your property is incredibly important, with so many high-profile fires in the media more attention is being paid to installing the right precautionary measures.

At IDS, we have a range of fire alarm systems that are designed to give you the best chance of evacuating the building and preventing the fire from spreading. But which alarm system should you choose? You'll often see a choice between conventional fire alarms and addressable fire alarms - but what is the difference?

Conventional vs Addressable Fire Alarms

The key difference between convention and addressable alarms is that conventional alarms can alert you that a fire is occurring and can direct you to the zone in which it has started, but can't exactly locate where the fire is.

In comparison, an addressable alarm can pinpoint exactly where the fire is, as it can tell you which fire/smoke alarm has been set off. As you can locate the fire immediately, this fire alarm system gives you the best chance of stopping a fire from spreading further.

When would I pick a conventional fire alarm?

If you have a small property with few fire hazards then a conventional fire alarm is a cost-effective way to alert you to a fire. As a conventional fire alarm can tell you the zone in which a fire is taking place you will still be able to locate the fire in a timely manner. 

When do I need an addressable fire alarm?

Addressable fire alarms are perfect for larger facilities as there will be no question as to where a fire has started. The speed in which you locate a fire drastically improves the chances of stopping it from spreading and getting everyone to safety. Addressable fire alarms can reassure you that in the event of a fire you will be able to tackle it as quickly as possible and give the emergency services more details about the location and possibly type of fire that has started.

Where can I get a fire alarm system?

Whether you want a conventional or addressable fire alarm system, IDS can help you design a system that will best suit your property. We will also install your system to ensure that it is all up and working to it's best ability.

We also offer around-the-clock monitoring service for your fire alarm system and a call out engineering service that is available 24/7 to give you peace of mind your fire alarm system is always up and running. To learn more about our fire alarm services, you can click here.


If you are interested in or conventional or addressable fire alarm systems or about any of the other security systems we supply here at IDS, we are more than happy to help. Get in touch with our friendly team of experts so that we can help you make your property more secure. Contact us today

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