05 October 2020


This month Simon Banks talks to David Barnes, Managing Director of Black Box Security & Fire Solutions. Black Box started over 40 years ago as a family business based in the North West. Today they provide fire and security solutions to commercial, residential and public sector clients.

How does the professionally monitored fire market look today?

Today, the commercial market is almost exclusively professionally monitored, however, most systems still don’t have signalling. I would estimate that 70% of the commercial market see Fire Monitoring as a grudge purchase, whereas the remainder sees the true value it offers. Our challenge continues to be the demonstration of how a very basic service should not be the preference of end-users and that higher integrity systems are the only way to go. We are often faced with requests to install lower-grade systems to save costs, but this just simply isn’t something we would entertain.

In all newer, high-profile buildings the fire alarm systems are always monitored. It is older, existing premises where the challenges lie. We always recommend monitoring as a “no brainer” for our customers. If no-one is on-site, wouldn’t you still want the fire brigade to respond to limit the damage and evacuate adjacent buildings?

What can we do as an industry to raise the standards for Fire Monitoring?

Insurers need to do more to drive this and remove the commercial challenge. It should always be specified that any commercial premises must have a monitored fire system. In my opinion, it should be the minimum acceptable standard. The fire signalling sector remains less regulated than its security equivalent. For all Fire Alarm Systems, they must be monitored and maintained by a fully accredited BAFE (SP203) Fire Alarm System Service Provider.

Grading, for both fire and security systems, is a flaw in our sector and remains a constant source of confusion and frustration. More clarity from the standards and associated bodies would help to improve this. For end-users, there is such a vast array of options coupled with little clarity or clear guidance on what their specific installation requires. Too much is left open to opinion and price, which I believe means as an industry we are not reaching the standards that we should strive for each day. Proper, clear certification needs to also be in place.

What are some of the main challenges you must overcome here?

We always ask our customers to look at the cost per year vs actual risk. The damage of a building, the goods inside or the people would always outweigh the costs of a monitored system. The risk, in our minds, is too great to chance and we need to ensure a system is fit for purpose 100% of the time. The only way to do this is with high grade, professionally monitored systems like GradeShift Pro Fire. We’ve got the systems, technologies and experience, we just need the support of end-users and the industry to deliver it.  

How important is remote access and UDL for Fire Systems?

We’ve been utilising the benefits of UDL for over 15 years, completing remote inspections throughout this time providing a non-intrusive high-level service to our customers. Our focus on planned preventive maintenance (PPM) has helped to reduce any downtime for my customers. We’re able to be reactive to faults, provide essential support to guarantee successful installations and then ensure a secure and reliable system from then on.


“We exclusively use DualCom, and now DualCom Pro which we've enjoyed installing approx 30 of in the last month.”

Lee Baker (GTM Electrical Services) – LinkedIn – 2nd September

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