Legacy Systems Training
NFPA Journal®, September/October 2008
Experienced fire alarm designers and installers will tell you that lack of maintenance is probably the leading cause of recurring false alarms in any properly designed and installed fire alarm system. To prevent false alarms, NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm Code®, places the responsibility for inspecting, testing, and maintaining fire alarm systems directly on the “building owner or the owner’s designated representative.”
When an authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) enforces the requirements of NFPA 72, he or she typically encourages the owner to contract with a qualified service company for the system’s inspection, testing, and maintenance needs.
NFPA 72 requires that fire alarm system service personnel be qualified, have experience with the equipment on the premises and with testing and troubleshooting techniques, and be familiar with NFPA 72 and local requirements. If the personnel meet these qualifications, they will help ensure a reliable fire alarm system.
What qualifies a person to service a fire alarm system? NFPA 72 states that qualified personnel shall include, but not be limited to, those who are factory-trained and certified for fire alarm system service of the specific type and brand of system installed on the premises to be serviced; those certified by a nationally recognized fire alarm certification organization acceptable to the AHJ; those who are registered, licensed, or certified by a state or local authority; and those who are employed and qualified by an organization listed by a nationally recognized testing laboratory for servicing fire alarm systems.
The first item presents an important aspect of a technician’s qualifications. If the technician has not been trained by the manufacturer of the system being serviced, how can he or she reliably maintain the system? As stated in the annex of NFPA 72, this requirement “is intended to allow an individual to service equipment only for which he or she has specific brand and model training.”
How will an owner know whether service personnel are qualified? Annex A provides an outline to help owners, installers, maintainers, and the AHJ understand what to expect of service personnel. According to the list, service personnel should understand the requirements of NFPA 72 and the fire alarm requirements of the National Electrical Code® (NEC®); understand basic job site safety laws and requirements; be able to troubleshoot and determine the cause of fire alarm system trouble conditions; and understand equipment-specific requirements, such as programming, application, and compatibility.
They should also be able to read and interpret fire alarm system design documentation and manufacturer’s inspection, testing, and maintenance guidelines; properly use the tools and equipment required to test and maintain the fire alarm systems and their components; and properly apply the test methods the NEC requires.
When an AHJ tries to enforce these qualification requirements, he or she must ask the service personnel if they are factory-trained and certified to service the specific model and brand of the system installed in the building. While manufacturers try to ensure that those who sell and install their equipment are trained on their current product lines, they seem to make little effort to offer training on their legacy equipment.
The fire alarm systems manufactured today are much more sophisticated, so today’s technicians need basic electrical and electronics training, and must understand system programming. This level of training presents manufacturers with a challenge: They must design training for their current products and maintain training for their legacy products. Yet, they sometimes have difficulty meeting both needs.
Proper fire alarm system maintenance depends on the qualifications of the technician performing the maintenance. The quality of the maintenance directly affects the consistent long-term performance of the fire alarm system. A fire alarm system’s credibility depends directly on the quality of the system design, the initial system installation, and on the maintenance of the system, no matter how old it is.
Wayne D. Moore, P.E., FSFPE is a principal with Hughes Associates and immediate past chair of the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee.