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Distinguishing Fire And Smoke Detection

Alex Flitton
Jan 10, 2019 8:05:00 AM

Fire & Smoke Related Alarms

It should come as no surprise to know that fire alarms have the highest priority of any alarm signal that goes through a central station. The difference between, 10 and 30 seconds can determine whether a subscriber keeps their home or not. It’s a slim margin, and response time is critical in thwarting a dramatic loss of property. But, the mere emergence of a fire-related alarm signal being sent to the central station does not say much about the true nature of the situation. Like we have learned with the California wildfires, “smoke” detectors have set off thousands of false alarms, raising the issue of how fires are detected and what to do when an alarm goes off. We put “smoke” and “fire” in parenthesis because they require some distinction.

Smoke Detectors Come With Some Smoke and Mirrors

To be clear, we believe that every human being should have some sort of gas detection system in their home, no matter what, no exceptions. And this article is in no way intended to dissuade you from ripping your detector from the ceiling. The purpose of this article is to bring to light some of the obstacles that organizations related to fire detection and response industries.

From central stations, to dispatch centers, fire departments, and emergency response departments of all types, each party takes significant hits from the false alarms that smoke detectors produce. As AvantGuard experienced a significant influx of false alarms from the California wildfires, it became apparent that the detection systems were clearly designed to detect the gas, not the actual fire. So, even if a home was one hundred miles away from the nearest fire, the smoke could be thick enough to sound a smoke detector alarm.

To be fair, occupants of a home or commercial space should be alerted at the presence of harmful gases like smoke or carbon monoxide. And, depending on the seriousness, emergency response should even be sent. But, neither of these mean there is always a fire. Here’s why that’s important:

Signal Distinction - Fire, Smoke, and Carbon Monoxide

Fire safety devices do not distinguish between smoke from a grill or stove from smoke that is caused by a fire, simply because cooking food at temperature is basically like having a controlled fire in the home. Therefore, detection systems will alert the central station every time grandma overcooks the fried chicken. So what can be done? Simply put, fire safety devices need to start distinguishing between levels of danger, types of situations, and who should be contacted as a result.

The best part? This is not new technology to develop or implement. A Business Insider article from 2015 introduced security cameras that can detect crimes before they happen. From “public intoxication to trespassing,” artificial intelligence is helping companies develop cameras capable of detecting anything worth noticing.


Despite the unavoidable flaws that come with cameras connected to wireless networks, they are the product of the future, and their connectivity enables them to operate in ways that was never possible with traditional CCTV cameras. So, if a camera is capable of detecting a burglar, bench sitter, or fighter, why can’t they detect fires? The answer: they can.

Fire Alarm Monitoring And The End Goal

Just like security systems can deliver signals that relate to the seriousness and nature of a situation, fire and smoke detection systems should do the exact same thing. Currently, every signal from a smoke detection signal is labeled as a high priority emergency. This streamlines the monitoring process and gets the nearest fire department sent to the location as quickly as possible. The problem, is according to Statista, more than 2.6 million false alarms took place in 2016. This is a significant waste of taxpayer dollars and emergency responder time and attention.

According to the same report, the majority of signals came from unintentional calls, followed by system malfunctions, other false alarms and malicious or mischievous false calls. Each of these categories could be resolved by implementing technology that detects contextual fires and smoke with the power of the human eye and intellect. Companies like FLIR are re-imagining what it means to detect fire and respond to it. By using thermal imaging, artificial intelligence, and additional technologies, hundreds of millions of homes could be better protected while helping reduce the wasteful use of emergency responder time and resources.

At the end of the day, the goal is to detect fire and smoke-related danger and respond efficiently. And with today’s technology, more can be done.

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