The History of the Fire Alarm

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The History of the Fire Alarm

In this day and age, we all expect that some sort of fire alarm secures the buildings we go in and out of each day. It’s a key feature that we don’t often appreciate, because we very rarely use them ourselves and only occasionally get caught up in a fire drill or false alarm. When we really need them, however, they can, and do, save lives.

Always in the background, the fire alarm has a long history, so this month at LW Safety, we wanted to explore how we arrived at the modern addressable, monitored and wireless fire alarm systems that we take for granted.

To understand this history, we need to go back to a time before fire alarms.


Male pointing to fire safety alarm in office workplace


What did we do before fire alarms?

Long before electricity or the need for a mass alert, in the event of a fire, someone would simply need to shout to alert neighbours in their tiny village because they were so close by. As communities grew, specific people on fire watch would sound the alarm by ringing a church bell or blowing a whistle because there was the need to alert more people.

This was a good enough system up to a point, but large communities only got bigger and more spread out, which meant another solution was needed. Even the invention of a rattle to wake people that was created in Australia in around 1850 would eventually not be enough to do the job of spreading the news fast enough.

Another step forward in 1852 saw the invention of alarm boxes by Moses Farmer and William Channing. This crank system sent the details of the property to the nearest alarm station so that they could alert the fire service as to where the fire was more accurately.

This would work for quite some time, but the eventual expansion of additional structures in towns and cities meant it was no longer feasible. People eventually realised that a hand-crank system wasn’t really an efficient way to alert the authorities either, as borne out by The Great Chicago Fire in 1871, where many people lost their lives.


When was the modern fire alarm invented?

It wasn’t until 1890 that the first electronic fire alarm would be invented. A man named Francis Robbins Upton patented his automatic fire detection machine, but it wouldn’t be fully appreciated for several decades. Not long after Upton’s invention, in 1902, the first automatic smoke detection system was invented, too. 

Once people saw the benefits of such a rapid response in an emergency, the technology became more widely adopted. Over time, fire alarms would undergo further improvements and things like battery-powered smoke detectors would also emerge to help people at home, not just in business or commercial buildings.

First, there was the conventional fire alarm, then an addressable fire alarm which could pinpoint exactly where in the building a fire was developing, before wireless fire alarms emerged to provide a tidier system for buildings where a wired system wasn’t suitable.


Is your fire alarm system outdated?

If you’ve had your fire alarm system for at least 10-15 years, it might be time to invest in a more modern and up-to-date one. False alarms and faults within the system become more common in a system that is decades old, especially when it hasn’t been professionally maintained to keep it in top condition.

Consult our team at LW Safety if you’re based in Wembley, Harrow, Uxbridge or the surrounding region and would like to know more about updating your system — or installing one if you haven’t already got one! We provide a variety of systems that make use of the latest technological developments, including wireless fire alarms.

Keep people and your business safe with a tailored fire alarm system for your building. Call us today for any fire alarm-related queries.

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