Hot Startup for Fire / Intrusion Integration: Encore's FireFighter

By Brian Rhodes, Published Jun 17, 2014, 12:00am EDT

A startup claims to have orders pouring in for a novel solution to integrate firm alarm monitoring with one's intrusion system. 

The benefit? Fire monitoring for no additional monthly cost and by adding a single sensor to the panel. How does it work, and is it better than the alternatives? We take a look in this note.

Product Overview

Encore's FireFighter is a sensor built to alarm on a very specific condition: the standard 'beeps', or cadence, from UL-listed smoke/fire alarms. The overview video below offers a simple explanation of how the sensor works:

The Value Proposition

Using FireFighter allows a monitored intrusion system (common to many houses) to also monitor for fire without needing wired smoke detectors and even by using existing stand-alone battery powered sensors (also very common). 

Instead of needing special smoke detectors and costly combination fire/burg alarm panels that could add hundreds to an alarm system, adding a FireFighter sensor connects smoke alarms to the central station monitoring company for less than $100.

Key Features

Tone Triggered: The sensor detects the standard 'BEEP--BEEP--BEEP' cadence of a UL approved [link no longer available] smoke or fire detector, and triggers based on two or three sustained alerts. 

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Battery Powered: Even if used with hardwire powered smoke alarms, the FireFighter relies on battery power. However, with standard CR123A Lithium cells, the unit is expected to require new batteries every three to five years. 

Zonable: If the parent alarm panel supports sensor zones, multiple FireFighter sensors can be installed in large buildings or to help the central station determine where in the building an alarm is occurring.

Verified/Non-Verified Option: The unit can be configured to use in either type of system. For Non-Verified systems, an alarm automatically triggers a response through the main panel, while a Verified system waits 20 - 30 seconds for a 'all clear' code to be input. If no code is entered, the alarm is considered 'Verified' and sent to the central station.

Price: Encore's sensor is available through US/Canadian distributors [link no longer available] for ~$65, or direct from the manufacturer once approved as a reseller.

Tech Details

Sensors are compatible with two wireless standard receivers, the 345 MHz type common to Honeywell/Ademco and 2GIG panels, or the 319 MHz type used by Interlogix panels. However, many other alarm panels use the two frequencies, and the company is willing to support other panels if contacted.

While most smoke detectors are not connected to an alarm panel, they are interconnected to alert together by sound.  Most common types of detectors will sound if other sensors in the area alarm. When this is the case, a single FireFighter can be installed near a smoke detector, and the entire building is covered because of the tonal interconnect: 

 

However, for FireFighter to trigger correctly, the companion smokes cannot use anything other than the tone cadence. Smoke detectors that use spoken/verbiage annunciators will not work. This means that Google Nest users will not be able to use the sensor.

Potential Shortcomings

The amount of distance between a FireFighter and a companion smoke detector must be very close, about 6 inches. Because the sensor relies entirely on noise detection, if this distance is greater or if the unit is hung in a noisy industrial environment, the specific alarm pattern may be hard to distinctly make out and cause alarming. 

Also, the sensor will not detect smoke, fire, or heat by itself and it must always be installed with a companion smoke detector unit. If the adjacent unit does not alarm, neither will the FireFighter.

Alternatives?

Monitored smoke detectors are commonly available, generally in two basic types:

  • Wired Monitored Sensors: These detectors are connected to panels/powered by hardwired connections, but are costly to install after a building is already constructed due to costly cable runs in overhead and finished ceilings.
  • Wireless Interconnected/Unmonitored Sensors: In most retrofit cases, and even in new construction, wireless (battery powered) sensors are hung independently throughout a building. This is the most common option, because installation does not require any networking or cable pulls. 

In either case, the cost of the option ranges from ~$100 for a single room to $500 or more for a typical house. In general, FireFighter is more appealing the more smoke detectors are used in a building, potentially offering no savings for a single room apartment to thousands for a large residence.

 

 

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