What is the purpose of a pull station?

As nice as a warm fire can be, safety around flames is paramount in protecting both lives and property. Statistics taken by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) in 2019 show just how dangerous fires can be. In 2019 alone, over 3,000 people died in fires in the United States, with a staggering 16,600 injuries. On top of that, monetary losses due to fires have been estimated to be as high as $14.8 billion dollars in 2019 alone.

A building’s automatic fire alarm system does a lot to help prevent these senseless losses. Smoke detectors can set off alarms upon noticing the presence of smoke in the air in smoldering fires, and heat detectors can do the same upon the air temperature reaching a certain height in a short amount of time. These automated systems are quite a convenience, but they aren’t foolproof, and can’t be used to manually activate the fire alarm necessary to alert occupants of a fire. Thankfully, pull stations provide just that; an emergency manual activation of a fire alarm in the event that smoke detectors and heat detectors fail to notice a fire sooner than an occupant noticing the fire.

How does a pull station work?

A pull station is a fairly simple device; in most buildings, pull stations are a red box mounted against a wall, clearly labeled as manual fire alarms with instructions on how they’re meant to be used. When the switch on the pull station is pulled down, a few things will happen. Most abundantly clear will be that pulling the switch has triggered horn strobes and alarms, in order to direct occupants of the building to evacuate immediately. Additionally, a signal is sent to the control panel, where the building’s monitoring station is informed that a fire alarm has gone off, and, in many systems, the fire department will be informed right away that a fire alarm has been activated.

Pull stations come in two major types, single-action and dual-action. A single action pull station is the most simple type; they’re simply the red box mounted to a wall, with no covering or additional activation needed outside of pulling the handle down. Dual-action pull stations require additional activation in order to be pulled. This can include safeguards like glass surrounding the pull station that needs to be broken to access the switch, or a cover that has to be lifted first to get to the alarm handle. Dual-action pull stations are largely used to prevent accidental or mischievous activation. Regardless of type, the alarm will not shut off until manually turned off using a key.

How do you properly place a pull station during install?

The building you’re installing pull stations in will determine how many need to be installed and where. You should refer to NFPA standards and local building codes to determine what is required for your specific building. For the most part, however, at least one pull station will always be required, with multiple other stations needed in further areas and floors. Several pull stations will be required in buildings featuring long hallways and many exits.

Pull stations need to be installed between 42 and 48 inches from the floor, in order to ensure accessibility for people in wheelchairs. Pull stations must also be placed in areas free of obstacles so individuals can access pull stations easily in the event of an emergency. Speak with a professional installation service for more information on where these need to be placed in order to keep your building up to code and your occupants safe from the dangers of a fire.

Why you should include a pull station in your fire alarm system

Pull stations are an intentional redundancy. The NFPA puts it best:

4.5.1 Multiple Safeguards. The design of every building or structure intended for human occupancy shall be such that reliance for safety to life does not depend solely on any single safeguard. An additional safeguard(s) shall be provided for life safety in case any single safeguard is rendered ineffective.

Essentially, no single type of detector can be the sole safeguard in the event of a fire. A smoke detector should be backed up by a heat detector, and both should be backed up by a manual pull station. This way, if something fails, there are plenty of other options to minimize damage. A pull station is the definition of a fail-safe. If an occupant of a building notices smoke or a fire before any of the sensors in place have noticed it, there needs to be a fail-safe in place to allow those who noticed the dangers before the fire alarm system to inform the fire alarm system themselves. By being intentionally redundant, i.e., having multiple ways of achieving the same goal of activating the fire alarms, you can keep your building even safer than it would be with only one or the other.

Additional safeguards are paramount to the NFPA’s philosophy on fire safety. Rather than letting a single type of device control all the fire safety in a building, using multiple allows occupants added safety, knowing that should something fail, there are plenty of alternative options available for notifying other occupants of a fire. Among everything that a pull station can do for a fire alarm system, it’s important to remember its limitations. One such limitation is the long standing myth that pulling the switch on a pull station can set off overhead sprinklers. This is simply not true; a pull station’s switch will only set off the alarms and inform the monitoring station and potentially the fire department. Pull stations are entirely for the alerting of occupants in the building, and will not set off any sprinklers. Pull stations are a necessary component in any building’s fire alarm system, providing a manual option for setting off alarms. In a worst case scenario where the smoke detectors and heat detectors are slow to notice a fire that you notice immediately, it’s important to be able to manually inform all of the occupants in a quick, effective way, and a pull station provides us with just that.