To Remove or Not to Remove?
Opinion versus fact in abandoned fire alarm system removal.
NFPA Journal®, July/August 2008
Building owners making significant changes or additions to alarm systems can encounter various opinions as to what the applicable codes require, and they will have to try to distinguish which opinion rests on common sense and which does not.
The 2008 edition of NFPA 1®, Uniform Fire Code®, covers requirements for existing buildings, while the 2008 edition of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®), and the 2007 edition of NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm Code®, cover wiring for fire alarm systems and fire alarm system testing and maintenance, respectively.
Section 11.1.4 of NFPA 1 requires that all permanent wiring abandoned in place be tagged or "otherwise identified at its termination and junction points" as abandoned or removed from accessible areas and kept out of contact with other live wiring or devices. Section 13.1.7 of NFPA 1 further states that "all fire protection systems and devices shall be maintained in a reliable operating condition and shall be replaced or repaired where defective."
Because Section 13.1.7 requires that fire alarm equipment remain operational, one could infer that the owner must remove abandoned or inoperable equipment. But none of these codes require that abandoned fire alarm equipment be removed.
While the NEC does not address abandoned equipment, Article 760.25 requires the removal of the accessible portion of abandoned fire alarm cables. Designer or installers who intend to use the cables in the future must identify them with a tag that can withstand the environment.
Some code requirements state what must happen when an owner replaces a fire alarm system initiating device, notification appliance, or control unit component. For example, Paragraph 10.4.1.2.1.1 of NFPA 72 says that devices, notification appliances, or control relays added to a system must be functionally tested, while Paragraph 10.4.1.2.1.2 says that another device must be operated when such devices are deleted. Paragraph 10.4.1.2.1.3 requires that control equipment be tested in accordance with Table 10.4.2.2 when hardware is modified or repaired. When site-specific software is modified, Paragraph 10.4.1.2.1.4 requires that the functions affected be completely tested and that 10 percent of initiating devices that are not directly affected also be tested and the correct system operation verified. The paragraph also requires a revised record of completion that reflects these changes. Finally, Paragraph 10.4.1.2.2 requires that changes to all control units connected to, or controlled by, the system executive software undergo a 10 percent functional test of the system and that at least one device on each input and output circuit be tested to verify critical system functions.
Despite the lack of requirements for what must happen when a fire alarm system is replaced, some authorities having jurisdiction insist that the entire system comply with the jurisdiction’s current occupancy code requirements. After searching the fire codes, the Life Safety Code®, and the model building codes, I find no reference requiring such action.
If the existing devices are compatible with the new fire alarm control unit, there is no reason to upgrade them. The only upgrade NFPA 72 requires affects the installation of visible notification appliances to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since additional visible appliances may require additional power supplies, the 2007 edition of NFPA 72 requires that a smoke detector be installed at each additional power supply location.
However, these additions do not require a complete upgrade of the fire alarm system.
For new systems, Sections 188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206.1 of NFPA 72 require, in part, that, "At a minimum, the verification shall ensure that the installed system includes all required components and functions, that those components and functions are installed and operate as required.…" However, an exception makes clear that "where the installation is an extension, modification, or reconfiguration of an existing system, the verification shall be required for the new work only.…"
NFPA 72 requires an owner to maintain and test an installed fire alarm system. AHJs should enforce these requirements, but they should not require additional equipment when the codes clearly do not indicate the need. And in my opinion, all abandoned fire alarm equipment should be removed.
Wayne D. Moore, P.E., FSFPE is a principal with Hughes Associates and immediate past chair of the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee.