What Do I Test?
For new fire alarm systems, the answer is easy
NFPA Journal®, July/August 2010
The testing of a fire alarm system, or any emergency system, is an important function to perform at the end of an installation. Testing helps ensure the fire alarm/emergency systems and all the fire safety functions, including interfaced systems, will operate as specified and as required by the code. This is so important that NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®, devotes an entire chapter to the requirements and expected performance of an installed fire alarm system.
Unfortunately, many contractors and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) do not seem to have a clear understanding of the intent and extent of testing, as required by Chapter 14 of the code. The chapter states that these requirements apply to both new and existing systems, but in this column, I’ll focus on new systems.
The code begins with the mandate that “all new systems shall be inspected and tested in accordance with the requirements of Chapter 14” and that “the authority having jurisdiction shall be notified before the initial acceptance test. Before testing of the system can begin, however, the contractor must comply with the documentation requirements of the code, which includes “the record of completion and any information required by Section 10.18 regarding the system and system alterations, including specifications, wiring diagrams, and floor plans.” This documentation must also include “the current revisions of all fire alarm software and the revisions of software of any systems with which the fire alarm software interfaces.”
Because the fire alarm and emergency system may interface with a suppression system, the code requires that the suppression systems “be secured from inadvertent actuation, including disconnection of releasing solenoids or electric actuators, closing of valves, other actions, or combinations thereof, for the specific system, for the duration of the fire alarm system testing.” The tests must also verify that “the releasing circuits and components energized or actuated by the fire alarm system are electrically monitored for integrity and operate as intended on alarm.”
Sadly, contractors and AHJs often miss a key requirement: for both acceptance testing and ongoing testing and maintenance, all interfaced systems and safety functions are required to be tested as part of the fire alarm tests. What seems to happen with most new installations is that no single entity takes responsibility for a complete test as required by the code. For example, the contractor who installs the fire alarm will test all fire alarm devices and appliances he has installed. But that same contractor may fail to ensure the proper operation of processes interfaced with, or operated by, the fire alarm system, such as elevator recall, sprinkler/special hazard suppression systems, or HVAC control. The fire alarm contractor will argue that he or she did not install these other systems and did not include the cost in his contract of coordinating the other trades to ensure the fire alarm system interfaces correctly.
In response to these kinds of issues, NFPA has taken two steps to improve the complete testing or commissioning of fire alarm systems. The NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee initiated a “Test & Inspection Summit” to address the needs of improving Chapter 14. In addition, a new Recommended Practice entitled “Commissioning and Integrated Testing of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems” is being developed to address the fact that all interfaced systems that are designed as a group to provide fire safety must be commissioned as “one” system.
So, the answer to “What do I test?” is relatively simple: you test everything that is interconnected to the fire alarm system that provides building occupant life safety or property protection.
Wayne D. Moore, P.E., FSFPE, is a principal with Hughes Associates and immediate past chair of the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee.