"In case of fire, break glass" is a well-recognized phrase all over the world. While glass covers have given way to hinged plastic, fire pull stations are still among the most familiar fixtures in public buildings-and with good reason. Basic fire safety requirements include an alarm system that alerts not just the people in the building, but also the fire department and other emergency services. Pull stations are designed to do just that, making them essential for schools, office buildings, or anyplace else where a smoke detector just isn't enough.
How Pull Stations Work
There are two main components in a pull station system: the pull station itself, and the fire alarm control panel. The pull station can be either single action or dual action. Single action pull stations, as the name implies, require only a single action-pulling-to activate. Dual action pull stations require you to do something else before you pull-usually lifting or pushing in. All pull stations have clear instructions printed on them or molded into the handle in the country's main languages, as well as in Braille. By activating the pull station, you close the circuit that connects the pull station to the fire alarm control panel, which is usually located in the building. The control panel is what actually sounds the alarm, activating the bell or siren in the building, as well as alerting 911 or the fire department. After the situation is over, building personnel can reset the pull station by opening it with either a special key or an allen wrench, depending on the model. Once the handle goes back into place, the system can be reset from the control panel.
One of the most recognizable pull station models is the GE Signature series. These pull stations are available in single or dual action models and are made of durable, heat-resistant materials. Signature pull stations have a built-in microprocessor that enables, among other things, self-diagnostic testing (helpful for maintenance), auto-device mapping (so the control panel can pinpoint each individual station), and stand-alone operation (so in case the circuit fails, the station can sound the alarm on its own). Whereas most models come in the red color of a typical fire alarm, the Nokey 6510 single action model is available in yellow, blue, and black, and offers customizable text for various applications-natural disasters or medical emergencies, for instance. The Nokey also features a failsafe that unlocks the building's doors. Other common pull station manufacturers include Silent Knight, Fire-Lite, Siemens, and Simplex. Pull stations can cost anywhere from $26 for a Fire-Lite to $175 for a Nokey. Other brands may be more or less expensive depending on their features.
Pull Station Covers
Since there are few things more annoying than false alarms, you may want to buy a pull station cover to make pranksters think twice about activating the alarm just for kicks. While the traditional "break glass" cover is still used in some institutions, there are safer alternatives available. The Stopper II cover, one of the most widely used, is a clear or translucent plastic cover with hinges. When lifted, it triggers a piercing alarm which is enough to deter vandals, and certainly doesn't hurt in the event of a real emergency. Schools, hospitals, stores, and correctional facilities are a few places that can benefit from such covers, which generally cost about $85.
When to Use Pull Stations
Pull stations are mainly intended for use in major fire situations. If the fire is minor-if, for instance, you burned your lunch (along with the microwave)-call 911 immediately, then use a fire extinguisher to put out the fire. If, however, the fire is beyond your control, activate the pull station, exit the building safely, and call 911 in case the alarm only rings locally. Most importantly, make sure you always know where pull stations are located, as well as fire extinguishers and emergency exits. Remember, your safety and the safety of others depends not just on the brand or quantity of the fire safety devices you have installed, but also on how responsibly you use them.