More than Just NFPA 72 ®
Accepting your responsibility to install a fire alarm system.
NFPA Journal®, November/December 2008
We often stress in our NFPA fire alarm seminars that NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm Code®, does not, by itself, require anyone to install a fire alarm system. Many people have told me that they are surprised when they hear an installer or an authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) tell them that they want “a system installed by code.” We would like to think that someone making that statement and those hearing it understand that more than one code must be followed when planning and installing a fire alarm system.
Generally, NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, or the building code legally adopted by the jurisdiction will define when a facility must install a fire alarm system. That code will also define whether the fire alarm system will be manual or automatic and whether connecting it off-premises to notify the fire department automatically will be required.
Section 1.2.4 of the 2007 edition of NFPA 72 states this delineation clearly: “This Code shall not be interpreted to require a level of fire protection that is greater than that which would otherwise be required by the applicable building or fire code.”
Once the building code has established the need for a fire alarm system, the system must be installed following the requirements of NFPA 72 and NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code®. After the system has been installed, additional NFPA 72 requirements must be followed. Some jurisdictions may also have a fire prevention code that applies to buildings once they are built which also references the inspection, testing, and maintenance requirements of NFPA 72.
So it would seem that anyone who has spent some time in the fire alarm system installation field or who must enforce the various codes that apply to fire alarm system installations would know this logical process. Based on the questions and statements seminar attendees make, however, there appears to be some disconnect as to when a code must be followed.
The 2007 edition of NFPA 72 is clear about its purpose, stating in Section 1.2.1, “… this Code is to define how the means of signal initiation, transmission, notification, and annunciation; the levels of performance; and the reliability of the various types of fire alarm systems.” Our responsibility is to understand the code process and to understand that NFPA 72 “establishes minimum required levels of performance, extent of redundancy, and quality of installation but does not establish the only methods by which these requirements are to be achieved.”
But fire alarm systems are not only installed in new buildings. Questions continually arise regarding installations that are not required. The 2007 edition of NFPA 72 defines a nonrequired installation as “A fire alarm system component or group of components that is installed at the option of the owner, and is not installed due to a building or fire code requirement.”
Many AHJs will refuse to review or approve a nonrequired system, but this does not relieve the designer and installer from following the applicable codes. In fact, Section 188.8.131.52 of the 2007 edition of NFPA 72 states that “Nonrequired protected premises systems and components shall meet the requirements of this Code.”
So when owners ask for a fire alarm system installation in an existing building, designers and installers must know the owner’s fire protection goals and how to properly apply, design, and install a fire alarm system to meet those goals. To meet the code’s requirements, they must obviously have a copy of the applicable codes.
Of course, we have always assumed that those in the fire alarm system design, installation, and approval profession both own and read the National Fire Alarm Code. But when the installers in our classes are asked whether they have a copy in each of their company trucks, less than 40 percent say they do. In fact, many were not sure if they had a current copy of the code in their offices.
Each of us in the fire alarm system profession must accept our responsibility to have access and to study the code that regulates how we design, install, and approve fire alarm system installations. Make sure those who need a copy of the code have access to one and provide the training necessary to understand what the code requires. Do your installers have a copy? If you are a fire official, do you?
We must accept our responsibility to do what is right.
Wayne D. Moore, P.E., FSFPE is a principal with Hughes Associates and immediate past chair of the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee.