Silent Knight 5808, "AUTOTEST COMM ERROR" trouble msg

Hi everyone:

We have this Silent Knight 5808 fire alarm panel is our office that has been installed well over 10 years ago. It worked very reliably, until about the end of December when all of a sudden it started going off (making loud beeping noise) roughly at the same time of about 11:35 PM every night. When I check it the panel is showing “AUTOTEST COMM ERROR” message. I can silence it and it stays quiet until the next night when it goes off again at the same time.

Just from the message alone I could gather that it can’t connect to the “home office,” or to our monitoring company. I called them (there was a sticker on the front panel) and the guy told me that the issue is with the “noise on the phone line.”

OK, I thought. I then called Comcast (our phone service provider) and had them come over and check. Well, the Comcast technician tested the line and assured me that there’s no issue with any noise. Mostly because the line is digital, or Voip or whatever they call it. In other words it goes into a black box (ARRIS modem) and then is converted into digital bits that are transmitted via the Comcast cable.

So now I’m stuck. Any idea what is going on and how to address this?

PS. An interesting tidbit is that if I try to reset this Silent Knight 5808 panel during the day, it resets and starts working just fine. It is only that something happens at night, roughly at the same time, when it goes off again at about 11:35 PM.

I’ve dealt with a few phone line issues that seem to be along these same lines. Let me ask to try to narrow things down: did you recently change to Comcast phone service? Can you dial out on this service to any local or long distance number without having to enter extra digits or codes? Also, you only mention one phone line – is the fire alarm panel connected to two lines, and is the panel the only thing connected to either of these lines?

If the answer is no to any part of the last question, that is where you will need to start. UL requires fire alarm panels to have two means of communication, so your monitoring company probably originally set it up to communicate on two phone lines. While strictly speaking, they do not need to be dedicated, they need to be able to dial out regardless of a phone being off the hook, and usually this is accomplished by not sharing with any other devices.

Addressing question one: I’ve often seen fire alarm panels have troubles with digital phone service – this includes fiber or cable phone service from anyone other than the old Bell system – even when the service tests out as normal. I’ve been able to dial out and have conversations, but the fire alarm dialer still fails when it attempts to send test communications. This is bad, because it will likely also fail when trying to communicate in an emergency. The reality is that these dialers were designed only for old analog phone lines and use audio-frequency signaling, which can lose its fidelity in the digital encoding and compression that is common on digital phone service. Other issues with digital phone service are the fact that it depends on mains power and it is not truly redundant, since both lines come from the same link and will go out together in a service interruption.

Once you’ve determined that you have two seemingly good phone lines, and you are still having this issue, your fire alarm company may be able to install a “slave” dialer like the Firewatch 411UD and see if that solves the issue. If that doesn’t fix it, or you are concerned about the reliability issues inherent in digital phone lines, you’ll probably be looking at either going back to analog phone lines, or a cell dialer. Cellular monitoring may be more economical depending on the cost of analog phone service in your area. Be sure any monitoring service is UL certified.

As for the problem occurring at 11:35 pm, that must be the test transmission time that is programmed into the panel. That, or it is set to some more sane time, but the clock is wrong.

Thanks for the reply.

To answer your questions:

  1. We personally did not change anything in our Comcast service.

  2. I was able to dial out from one of the lines to my cellphone. That is how I learned the line number. I did not try the second line though, as at the time I didn’t even know it was there. I need to point out that I dialed out during the day when the fire panel resets just fine. I didn’t try any of this at night when the error occurs. All I can tell is that at night when this happens I can see on the Comcast ARRIS modem that first the line 1 LED starts to blink, then after a while the 2nd line LED blinks too … then stops. It may repeat once or twice. That was as long as my patience watching those things lasted.

  3. I also later learned from the Comcast technician that there are indeed 2 phone lines, although both are connecting to the same monitoring company. According to him that was OK when we installed it.

  4. As far as I know that panel is the only thing that is connected to those lines. So in other words they are dedicated ones.

    We’ve had this fire alarm setup close to 14 years to date. We had this same Comcast digital service since about 2014 or so. And there was never any issues with the fire alarm panel. Once the battery died on it, it was replaced and that was pretty much all the issues we’ve had with it… until this problem cropped up.

    As for the company that is supposed to service it (their name is on the sticker on the front) – we did call them. Twice. The first time the guy told me that he thinks it’s the noise on the line. (We then called Comcast & they checked and said, no.) Then the second time we called the first company again and told me that no, it’s not the noise. The guy then told us that he’ll call us back … and well, we’re still waiting L)

    So at that point I started looking online. I probably need to point out that servicing those fire alarms is not my specialty. I understand how to build a computer from parts, but that’s as far as my knowledge goes in that regard.

This is a serious issue. If the DACT cannot complete a daily test it is quite likely it cannot report an emergency situation either. Have you put the system on test with monitoring and attempted to send a signal? It does not have to be an alarm. A trouble or supervisory will do. There is also a menu item that will manually send a test signal.

Another option is to change to IP based monitoring. Check with your current central station to find out if they are set up for internet monitoring. If they are you could have a Silent Knight SK-IP-2 module added to the system. This takes the output from the DACT phone line jacks and converts it to report over your internet connection. Link to information>

<LINK_TEXT text=“ … K-IP-2/2UD”>SK-IP-2 and SK-IP-2UD</LINK_TEXT>

I agree it is strange that this problem would arise without anything being visibly changed. Ultimately, though, in my experience troubleshooting these sorts of problems, something will need to be changed or swapped to get it back to normal functionality. It is not unheard of for the dialer component of the panel to seemingly randomly stop functioning properly. I would follow STR’s suggestion and have a fire alarm contractor send test signals from your panel and see if they are being received by the monitoring station. The next step I would follow to test and/or resolve the situation is to have them attach an external slave dialer and attempt to reach your monitoring station using that. If that works, they can leave it installed permanently.

While you can do some troubleshooting yourself, I would advise having a professional do any service work. It’s almost never worth the liability, and for the same reason, I don’t do any fire alarm work on the side.

If the fire alarm company that you have been trying to use is not responsive, you are free to shop around. Silent Knight panels can be serviced by just about any fire alarm contractor. Just be certain, as always, that they are properly licensed for service of fire alarm systems. The only issue you may run into is if the level 4 programming password has been changed from default, the new company will need to try to get this from the old one, and some companies are more amenable to sharing this than others.

Thank you, both. Just like I repeated several times already. The alarm box starts working during the day. The issue only happens at night.

And no, it’s not an internet connected box. There’s no IP there. It’s about 14 years old. I’m guessing that it uses some sort of a dial-up connection.

But in any case, I’ll try to escalate this issue on Monday.

Nice thread guys, thanks for sharing…

Just a quick follow-up and a resolution. We were able to eventually get the fire alarm company to send their tech out. (From the day it broke to the day he came out to check it, took almost a month, shy of a few days. So wow. “great” service!) The guy acknowledged that the issue was the phone line (on their end) that the fire alarm box was connecting to. I tried to get the details from the guy but he was very cagey about it. So he ended up reprogramming the fire panel to use a different phone number to connect to and it’s been working fine for the last several days.

PS. What is also amazing to me is how he had to change that phone number: He had to call someone at the home station and that other person first uploaded the entire memory/ROM of the fire panel up to his end. Then the guy reprogrammed it and then downloaded it back. Interestingly an upload one way would take anything from 10 to 15 minutes. Wow! 90’s technology. I just hope that it doesn’t break again.

They’re doing remote up/download via the telephone lines. Yes it is old, but Honeywell isn’t proprietary. There’s a Serial port (and on newer panels, a USB port) that can connect directly to a PC running the Silent Knight Software Suite. Obviously you’d need an access code but it’s possible to up/download locally as well. And doing it via serial/USB cable is much faster than via modem/router.