Understanding the Role of Supervising Station Alarm Systems and Sprinkler Monitoring

By John Swanson

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards play a crucial role in ensuring the safety and reliability of fire protection systems. Among these, NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, sets forth requirements that are fundamental to the design, installation, performance, and maintenance of sprinkler monitoring and fire alarm systems in general. In this article, we’ll delve into the specifics of supervising station alarm systems, focusing on the qualifications of operators, the verification of sprinkler and fire alarm signals, and the differences between Central, Proprietary, and Remote Station Alarm Systems, as outlined in NFPA 72.

Model codes require fire sprinkler control valves and waterflow to be supervised by a listed fire alarm control unit. This blog will provide a summary of the requirements outlined in NFPA 72 for relaying signals received at the fire alarm control panel to the central, proprietary, or remote supervising station.

Qualifications of Supervising Station Operators

Supervising station operators are pivotal in managing alarm signals and ensuring timely responses to emergencies. According to NFPA 72 (2019), operators must be qualified in accordance with the requirements specified in Section 10.5.5. This ensures that individuals handling critical alarm information have the necessary training and competence to perform their duties effectively, thus maintaining the integrity and reliability of the fire alarm monitoring process.

Fire Alarm Signal Verification

Supervising Station Alarm Systems & Sprinkler MonitoringSignal verification is a critical step to minimize false alarms and ensure that emergency services are dispatched for genuine emergencies. NFPA 72 requires that all fire alarm signals received by a supervising station be immediately retransmitted to the communications center, except as permitted by certain sections of the code (NFPA 72,

This process involves supervising station personnel attempting to verify alarm signals to confirm their authenticity before emergency services are notified. This topic was very controversial when first submitted to the NFPA 72 technical committee. For years, the priority for the supervising stations was to notify the fire department before contacting anyone else. NFPA 72 now allows the alarm signal to be verified when certain conditions are met before the fire department is dispatched.

What Are The Difference Between Central, Proprietary, and Remote Station Alarm Systems per NFPA 72?

Central Station Alarm Systems

Central Station Service Alarm Systems are comprehensive services that include alarm system installation, monitoring, retransmission of alarms, record-keeping, testing, and maintenance (26.3.2). These systems require a contract with a subscriber and are provided by a prime contractor responsible for delivering a code-compliant service (NFPA 72, 26.3.3). Central stations must also conspicuously indicate that their services comply with all requirements of NFPA 72 (26.3.4). Central stations are typically 3rd parties that have no vested interest in the property in which they are monitoring.

Proprietary Supervising Station Alarm Systems

Proprietary Supervising Station Alarm Systems are owned and operated by the property owner and monitor alarms for properties under a single ownership (NFPA 72, These systems require trained personnel in constant attendance, responsible for the property being protected. The system and personnel must comply with Section 26.4 of NFPA 72, ensuring that proprietary systems maintain a high standard of reliability and effectiveness. Companies such as Target, Walmart, and Walgreens, to just name a few, utilize proprietary monitoring for their buildings.

Remote Supervising Station Alarm Systems

Remote Supervising Station Alarm Systems serve properties under various ownerships from a location remote from the protected premises (NFPA 72, Remote supervising station alarm systems are typically operated by cities and counties. According to the Automatic Fire Alarm Association, Remote supervising station alarm systems represent roughly 85-90% of all monitored fire alarm systems. These systems must provide automatic and visible indications of alarm, supervisory, and trouble conditions at a remote location. The installation, maintenance, testing, and use of these systems must adhere to the requirements of Section 26.5 of NFPA 72.


One of the more common questions that come up regarding supervising stations is, how quickly does the monitoring company need to relay the fire alarm to the communications center? This question is addressed in NFPA 72, Section 26.2.2. This section states, alarm signals must be “immediately” transmitted to the communications center. In other words, NFPA 72 does not specify a minimum timeframe. The annex language to this section goes on to say that the term “immediately” when used in this context means, “without unreasonable delay”.

The role of Supervising Station Alarm Systems in fire protection is indispensable, offering a first line of defense in detecting and responding to fires and notifying fire department personnel. By adhering to the standards set forth in NFPA 72, these systems ensure a coordinated and efficient approach to fire protection and fire safety in general. Whether through central, proprietary, or remote station alarm systems, the goal remains the same: to protect lives and property from the devastating effects of fire.

Further Reading

An Introduction to Fire Sprinkler Monitoring Requirements

Fire Sprinkler Monitoring & Supervision: NFPA 13 & NFPA 72

Fire Alarm Supervision

Looking to Learn more about Fire Sprinkler Monitoring and NFPA 72? The NFSA is Your Resource

Have a codes or standards question? The National Fire Sprinkler Association’s (NFSA) are here to help. Our Expert of the Day service provides members with codes an standards interpretations.  For more information on membership, visit our membership page to begin!

More about the author

John Swanson currently serves as NFSA’s Codes and Standards Specialist. In this role he provides training and education and represents NFSA on codes and standards technical committees. He currently serves as a Principal member of the NFPA 72 – National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code Technical Committee and is a past member of the International Building Code (IBC) Fire Safety Committee and International Fire Code (IFC) Interpretation Committee. From 2013-2017, John served as a fire service representative appointed by Minnesota Governor, Mark Dayton to the Minnesota Board of Architecture and Engineering.