All In It Together
The shared responsibility of fire alarm system testing
NFPA Journal®, July/August 2011
A year ago, I wrote about the importance of testing a fire alarm system, and everything interconnected to it, to ensure operational reliability. In a letter to NFPA Journal, a fire marshal responded that, even with budget cutbacks, he understood the importance of testing and hoped that his colleagues would take up the challenge to hold alarm companies and electrical contractors to the requirements of the 2010 edition of NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®.
He didn’t stop there. He also said that, in many jurisdictions, no one requires contractors to meet the testing requirements of NFPA 72 and that contractors often complained when he requested it of them. He further asserted that “virtually no advocates for the fire marshal” exist.
I can understand his dilemma: He’s simply trying to get installers to meet the minimum requirements of NFPA 72. I want to assure him, and all the other fire marshals out there, that those who serve on the NFPA 72 technical committees hold them in high regard and intend to create supportive requirements for them.
As stated in Chapter 14 of NFPA 72, “The inspection, testing, and maintenance of single and multiple-station smoke and heat alarms and household fire alarm systems shall comply with the requirements of this chapter.” It doesn’t say that the testing only has to meet some of the requirements in the chapter. As the fire marshal put it, “thorough testing of all aspects of a fire alarm system”—which he also described as “running life-safety systems and their installers through their paces”—allows him to sleep better knowing he did his part. Chapter 14 is very clear when it comes to the involvement of the authority having jurisdiction in the testing of fire alarm systems. Section 220.127.116.11.1.2 states, “The authority having jurisdiction shall be notified prior to the initial acceptance test.”
Ultimately, the code places the responsibility for testing and maintaining the fire alarm system on the building’s owner. However, contractors who install fire alarm systems must know the code requirements and should, at the very least, inform the owners of this responsibility. It makes no sense to install a life-safety system and walk away from it without knowing if it will operate properly when called upon.
The code clearly states to everyone involved in installing fire alarm systems: “All new systems shall be inspected and tested in accordance with the requirements of Chapter 14.” In my opinion, this statement is easily enforced, but it will take an effort on the part of all involved to ensure that it is.
In addition, the requirements in Chapter 14, as stated in Section 14.1.4, “… shall apply to both new and existing systems.”
I believe that most inspectors are diligent in their efforts to require proper testing of fire alarm systems. But I would remind fire alarm system installers and electrical contractors that it is not the inspectors’ responsibility to make them do their jobs. It is the contractor’s responsibility to ensure the system is 100 percent tested before the inspector is called.
Clearly, the NFPA 72 technical committees can work diligently to produce a code that will provide the guidance and requirements for operational and reliable fire alarm systems. However, everyone in the design, installation, and testing process has the responsibility to ensure the systems provided for the safety of the building occupants work as required by the code.
Wayne D. Moore, P.E., FSFPE, is a principal with Hughes Associates.