Topic: Code Enforcement

A Guide to Fire Alarm Basics – Off-Premises Signaling and Supervising Stations

A fire alarm system is a crucial part of the overall fire protection and life safety strategy of a building. A fire alarm system serves many functions and the differences between the functions can be a bit confusing, so I created a visual guide to fire alarm basics. The objective of this blog series is to discuss some of the major components and functions of a fire alarm system. For an overview of the entire system take a look at my Guide to Fire Alarm Basics Blog. This blog will take a deeper dive into fire alarm system off-premises signaling and supervising stations. When talking about fire alarm systems, the term premises includes the entire area monitored by the fire alarm, this could include the entire building or even an entire campus. Off premises signaling is important because it allows signals from the fire alarm system to be sent to a constantly attended location (supervising station or a public communication center) to ensure the proper response. The purpose of off-premises signaling is to provide dedicated, 24-hour monitoring for a fire alarm and signaling system and to initiate the appropriate response to those signals. In the case of a fire alarm condition (fire detected in the building), the appropriate response usually includes the dispatching of the local fire department or fire brigade. In the case of a supervisory condition, such as a closed sprinkler valve, the appropriate response might be the notification of designated maintenance personnel or outside contractors.   If a fire alarm and signaling system is sending signals off premises, it is either (1) sending signals through a Public Emergency Alarm Reporting System, or (2) the fire alarm system is part of a Supervising Station Alarm System. Regardless of the system, in today’s world they all consist of a type of transmitter at the protected premises that uses a transmission and/or communications channel and pathway to send signals to a receiver at the supervising station or public communications center.     A Public Emergency Alarm Reporting System (PEARS), otherwise known as a Municipal Emergency (Fire) Alarm System is a communication infrastructure, other than a public telephone network that is used to communicate with a communication center. Typically, this communication infrastructure is owned, operated, and controlled by a public agency. The system itself does not include the fire alarm control unit or any of the equipment that is located on the protected premise, instead, it starts at the transmitter and ends at the public communication center.   One way the interface between the fire alarm control unit and the PEARS is completed is using a master fire alarm box, which is an addressable manual pull station on the PEARS system that has an interface circuit that allows a fire alarm control unit to actuate the master box when the system initiates a fire alarm signal. Large municipalities usually locate the communications center at a facility designed for the purpose. Small communities often locate the communications center at the fire station, police station, sheriff’s office, or a private agency that has been contracted to provide public emergency communications services. NFPA 1221, Standard for the Installation, Maintenance, and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems, provides requirements for the installation, performance, operation, and maintenance of communications systems and facilities.     If off-premises signaling is provided by a private company, it is most likely completed using a supervising station alarm system.  A supervising station alarm system consists of everything connected to the supervising station, including the protected premises fire alarm control unit and devices.   Supervising Station Alarm Systems are further divided into three specific types. They are Central Station Service Alarm Systems Proprietary Supervising Station Alarm Systems Remote Supervising Station Alarm Systems.     A Central Station Service Alarm system consists of a remotely located supervising station that is listed for central station service to UL 827 Central-Station Alarm Services and, in addition to monitoring, it provides several other services including record keeping and reporting, testing services, and runner service. This can either be required by code or some insurance companies for certain occupancies. This option can also be chosen by a building owner who wants to have a single contract with a provider who supplies monitoring as well as inspection, testing, and maintenance and other services required of central stations.     A Proprietary Supervising Station Alarm System consists of a supervising station under the same ownership as the protected building that it supervises. These can be useful to owners who have very large buildings or a campus or for owners who have numerous buildings in many locations and who are able to dedicate the space and staffing levels to accomplish this. Proprietary supervising stations can be located on the same premises as the fire alarm system or at another location; these are most often used by large airports, industrial plants, college campuses, large hospitals, and retail chains, among other facilities. An example of this is a big box store that has a dedicated location that monitors all of its store locations. Additional fire alarm services including record keeping, equipment installation, inspection, testing, and maintenance are the responsibility of the owner and can be accomplished in-house or be contracted out to an outside contractor.   A Remote Supervising Station Alarm Systems consists of a constantly attended location that receives signals from various protected premises typically owned by different parties. Unlike central station fire alarm systems, contracts for this service are typically limited to the monitoring and recording of signals from the fire alarm system. Additional services including equipment installation, inspection, testing, and maintenance are the responsibility of the owner. This is an option for owners who are not required or do not want to provide central service and for whom a proprietary supervising station does not make sense. It also may be common for a municipality to operate a remote supervising station as a way to receive signals at their communication center if they are not utilizing a public emergency alarm reporting system.  There are many different methods that can be used for the fire alarm control unit to communicate to the supervising station, and NFPA 72 outlines the requirements for four different types that are permitted in new installations, which includes both wired and wireless methods. Want to learn more? Like I noted in the beginning of this blog, if you are interested in learning more about fire alarm basics, take a look at my Fire Alarm Basics Blog. I will be updating this series over the next few months to add a deeper dive into different portions of the fire alarm system. If you found this article helpful, subscribe to the NFPA Network Newsletter for monthly, personalized content related to the world of fire, electrical, and building & life safety.

HCIS licensing requirements webinar is now available for fire protection contractors and consultants working in 12 Saudi Arabian sectors

Earlier this month, the NFPA jointly presented an informational webinar with the Saudi Arabian High Commission for Industrial Security (HCIS) on new license renewal requirements that went into effect last month. The webinar was a great collaboration between NFPA and the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) that provides strategic supervision and is the approval body for 12 industries in Saudi. The one-hour webinar with Q&A covered the new mandate as well as the NFPA training and certification classes that professionals will need to take before they seek license renewals within the petroleum, electricity, petrochemicals, water, industrial services, communications, mining, gas, civil explosives, chemical manufacturing, metal manufacturing, and port sectors. The webinar is a prime example of the government responsibility that is emphasized in the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™. With more than 1500 registered for the live version of the webinar, the Saudi Arabian workforce demonstrated that it is interested in skilling up and investing in safety – two other critical components of the Ecosystem. Whether you attended the webinar on the 8th and want to revisit things, or are just learning about this webinar for the first time, be sure to see what the new Saudi Arabian requirements  and NFPA solutions are all about by accessing the archived webinar now. Looking to establish similar safety benchmarks elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa? Reach out to me so that we can work together to connect the dots on safety, because knowledge is power.  
An electrician with wiring

A Better Understanding of NFPA 70E: Electrical Equipment Working Space

The National Electrical Code® (NEC)® Section 110.26 requires adequate working space for all electrical equipment. NEC Section 110.26(A) requires a clear space at least 30 inches wide and 36 inches deep if the equipment is likely to be worked on while energized. This space is necessary not only to allow workers room to perform tasks but also room to move if something goes wrong. NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, Section 110.3 requires that all equipment be placed into an electrically safe work condition (ESWC) unless there is proper justification for the equipment to be energized. NEC 110.26(A) still applies even if equipment will be in an ESWC. The initial electrical inspection for a facility is conducted by a legislated authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).  However, as with all NFPA 70E requirements, it is the employer who assigns someone as the AHJ within the facility. That person may also be the AHJ for the NEC requirements when new equipment is installed in that facility. Floor space is at a premium so providing larger working space is a common issue. An inhouse AHJ will try to convince the official AHJ that the equipment will never be worked on while energized. The problem with that argument is that both OSHA and NFPA 70E require equipment that is not in a verified ESWC to be considered energized. As far as the NEC is concerned, energized equipment requires working space no matter which AHJ inspects the installation. The inhouse AHJ will claim that employee training, work procedures, equipment maintenance, and work practices assure that an employee will never work on the equipment energized. The inhouse AHJ may convince themselves that this is justification to use a working space smaller than NEC Section 110.26(A) when they are the sole AHJ. This argument typically fails when it is an official AHJ who must approve the proposed working space. They want to assure worker safety under any situation by providing the required space. Few official AHJs will approve a smaller working space based on conditions that are beyond their jurisdiction. They will not verify worker qualification, determine the effectiveness of the training program, check equipment maintenance records, or review work procedures and practices. Human error is a major contributor to workplace fatalities and injuries. An official AHJ will not want to sign off on an installation that will haunt them when a worker fails to follow the employer’s electrical safety program. It takes experience to protect workers while preserving valuable floor space. Electrical safety is always affected by installation, maintenance, and work practices. There is equipment not likely to be worked on while energized. There are installation methods and techniques that can minimize the amount of working space required. There is equipment that operates below the minimum shock or arc-flash hazard levels. The full working space of NEC 110.26(A) will be necessary without a holistic approach to electrical safety. Make sure your installations provide the clear space necessary to keep a worker safe. NFPA 70E and the NEC are now available in NFPA LiNK™, the association’s information delivery platform with NFPA codes and standards, supplementary content, and visual aids for building, electrical, and life safety professionals and practitioners. Learn more at
People walking up and down stairs

Basic of Egress Stair Design

For many of us, walking up and down stairs is a routine part of our day. We may use stairs at work, at entertainment venues, and in our home without thinking twice about how their design and function contribute greatly to life safety in both emergency and non-emergency situations. Recently, I wrote about the details and the importance of handrail design for safe and efficient stair use. Here I will focus on other details of stair design including riser height, tread depth, stair width, stair landings, and construction uniformity that are mandated in order to create a safe path of travel when using the stairs to move throughout the building. These standard stair design details are mandated for egress stairs in the exit access, exits and exit discharge. (Where you have other than standard stairs such as curved stairs, spiral stairs or winders within a means of egress, consult NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, Chapter 7 for further details on their design.) Construction All stairs serving as required means of egress must be of permanent fixed construction (unless they are stairs serving seating that is designed to be repositioned, such as those in theaters, for example, where seating sections are added, removed, or relocated and it is impractical for stairs associated with that seating to be of fixed, permanent construction). In buildings required by NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, to be of Type I or Type II construction, each stair, platform, and landing, not including handrails and existing stairs, are required to be of noncombustible material throughout. Stairs can be of combustible construction if the building is not required by that occupancy to be of Type I or Type II construction. For example, an occupancy might not have any requirements related to minimum building construction type, or the occupancy chapter might permit Type III, Type IV, or Type V construction. If the building is required to be of Type I or Type II construction, the materials used for new stair construction (stairs, platforms, and landings) must be noncombustible. Dimensional Criteria and Uniformity Providing adequate width is one of the most important features of egress stair design as the width ensures that the stairs can accommodate enough people safely and efficiently during an evacuation.  Providing appropriate stair riser height and tread depth ensures that stairs are safe, usable, and presents tripping and discomfort when traveling up or down the stairs.  The minimum required width as well as other dimensional criteria for both new and existing stairs is summarized in the tables below (reference: Chapter 7 of NFPA 101).  It should be noted that in some cases, the egress capacity will require a stair to have a greater width than the minimum specified here. The minimum width of new stairs is 36 in. (915 mm) where the total occupant load of all stories served by the stair is fewer than 50. Where new stairs serve a total cumulative occupant load (assigned to that stair) of 50 or more people but less than 2000 people the minimum width is 44 in. (1120 mm) and where the total cumulative occupant load assigned to the stair is greater than or equal to 2000 people the minimum width is 56 in. (1420 mm).  Riser height is measured as the vertical distance between tread nosings. Tread depth is measured horizontally, between the vertical planes of the leading projection of adjacent treads and at a right angle to the tread’s leading edge. Measuring both riser height and tread depth needs to represent the actual space available to those using the stairs. It cannot include any part of the tread that is not available for someone to place their foot.  Installing floor coverings to existing stairs might also reduce the available space for use on the stairs. Irregularities in stair geometry, either from one step to the next or over an entire run of stairs, can cause accidents, tripping and falling when using the stairs. When many people are using the stair at once, just one accident can cause delays and disruptions in movement and use of the stairs, and increase the overall time of evacuation. There should be no design irregularities. Very small variations due to construction are permitted between adjacent treads and risers and the overall different over the entire flight of stairs. The variation between the sizes of the largest and smallest riser or between the largest and smallest tread depths shall not exceed 3∕ 8 in. (9.5 mm) in any flight. Stair Landings As a general rule, stairs must have landings at door openings because it is unsafe to move through a door opening and immediately begin vertical travel on a stair. In existing buildings, a door assembly at the top of a stair is permitted to open directly to the stair, without first providing a level landing, provided that the door leaf does not swing over the stair (rather, it swings away from the stair) and the door opening serves an area with an occupant load of fewer than 50 people. Stairs and intermediate landings must continue with no decrease in width along the direction of egress travel. A reduction in width of a stair landing could reduce the overall capacity of the stair.  In new buildings, every landing will have a dimension, measured in the direction of travel, that is not less than the width of the stair. Landings are not required to exceed 48 in. (1220 mm) in the direction of travel, provided that the stair has a straight run. Intermediate stair landings serve as effective breaks in runs of stairs, which allow persons who slip or trip to halt their fall.     Stair Tread and Stair Landing Surfaces Surface Stair treads and landings must be solid, without perforations, except for noncombustible grated stair treads and landings as otherwise provided in the following occupancies: assembly, detention and correctional, industrial and storage. Solid treads and solid landing floors provide a visual barrier that shields the user’s view of the vertical drop beneath the stair. People with a fear of high places are more comfortable using these stairs. Grated and expanded metal treads and landings could catch the heel of a shoe and present a tripping hazard. Noncombustible, grated stair treads are permitted in areas not accessed by the general public, such as catwalks and gridirons in theaters, resident housing areas in prisons, factories and other industrial occupancies, and storage occupancies. Projections Stair treads and landings must also be free of projections or lips that could trip stair users. The tripping hazard occurs especially when someone is traveling down the stairs, where the tread walking surface has projections. The installation of a surface-mounted stair nosing or a strip of material onto an existing stair tread might produce a projection that creates a tripping hazard. Tread nosings that project over adjacent treads can also be a tripping hazard. (Additional considerations for minimizing tripping hazards for accessibility is also addressed in ICC A117.1, Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities.) Traction Stair treads and landings within the same stairway must have consistent surface traction. This means that slip resistance is reasonably uniform and sufficient to minimize risk of slipping across the treads. Consistency is important because misleading a person’s expectation of the surface they will be walking on is a major factor in missteps and falls involving slipping. Materials used for floors that are acceptable as slip resistant generally provide adequate slip resistance where used for stair treads. If stair treads are wet, there is also increased danger of slipping, just as there is an increased danger of slipping on wet floors of similar materials. The many details of stair design may seem minute and unimportant in the overall picture of fire and life safety, but stairs can be dangerous and an impediment to egress if not designed correctly.  Tripping, falling, and a lack of confidence by those using egress stairs can interrupt efficient egress travel and building evacuation.  Paying careful attention to stair design will greatly contribute to occupant safety during both day to day and emergency conditions

NFPA wins six 2021 Brandon Hall Group HCM Excellence Awards for its training programs

NFPA won six coveted Brandon Hall Group [Gold/Silver/Bronze] awards for excellence in the “Certification Program, Advanced Custom Content, and Best Use of Virtual Worlds for Learning” categories. The 2021 Brandon Hall Group HCM Excellence Awards are bestowed upon organizations that excel in learning and development, talent management, leadership development, talent acquisition, human resources, sales performance, diversity, equity & inclusion, and future of work. The following NFPA training solutions were recognized this year: Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFPS) Online Learning Paths: Gold - Best Certification Program Certified Fire Plan Examiner (CFPE) Online Learning Paths: Gold - Best Certification Program Certified Fire Inspector I (CFI-I) Online Learning Paths: Gold - Best Certification Program NFPA 70, National Electrical Code (NEC) (2020) Online Training Series: Silver - Best Advance in Custom Content Fire and Life Safety Operator Online Training: Silver - Best Use of Virtual Worlds for Learning NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace (2021): Bronze - Best Advance in Custom Content                             “Brandon Hall Group Excellence Awards in 2021 provide much-needed and well-deserved recognition to organizations that went above and beyond to support their stakeholders during the unprecedented disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Brandon Hall Group COO and leader of the HCM Excellence Awards Program Rachel Cooke. “The awards provide validation of best practices in all areas of HCM at a time when they have never been more important to employers, employees, and customers.” In 2018 and 2019, Brandon Hall Group recognized NFPA online learning solutions related to sprinklers, storage, hot work, and NFPA 3000™, Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program with awards. The 2021 award entries were evaluated by a panel of veteran, independent senior industry experts, Brandon Hall Group analysts, and executives based upon these criteria: fit the need, design of the program, functionality, innovation, and overall measurable benefits. “NFPA has been on a journey to improve its online education offerings so that skilled professionals keep learning during the pandemic and beyond. It’s an honor to have Brandon Hall Group recognize the educational transformation underway at NFPA and our efforts to improve work performance and safety with a total of 10 best in class awards over the past three years,” said Bartholomew Jae, the association’s director of education and development. “NFPA is in good company with progressive organizations such as Google, Bridgestone, Deloitte, HP, PepsiCo, and others receiving Brandon Hall Group honors this year. Perhaps even more rewarding is the praise we are receiving from the individuals and organizations who are embracing our new online training offerings.”

Modifications To Existing Sprinkler Systems

With many businesses rethinking how their office spaces will be utilized post-pandemic, a significant number will likely undergo renovations or redesigns. Add this to regular tenant fit outs, including shell space in newly constructed buildings, and there are sure to be thousands of existing sprinkler systems  requiring modifications to adequately protect redesigned spaces. This often raises the question as to what extent the sprinkler system must be brought up to date with the latest standard, whether the system needs to be recalculated, and how extensive the testing of the modified system must be. Fortunately, the 2019 edition of NFPA 13 dedicated a chapter to the requirements for these instances for the first time and that information will carry over to the soon-to-be-issued 2022 edition. Change of use/occupancy For the purpose of this discussion, we will focus on situations where the use or occupancy classification of the space is not being changed. Where that is the case a more complex analysis is likely required to determine the impact of changes to design densities, areas of operation, and several other possible changes. NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems places responsibility on the owner for ensuring an evaluation be conducted in these instances, many of which go beyond the reconfiguration of office space where the space protected is likely to remain a light hazard occupancy. General When a building is undergoing a renovation or a remodel of its space the removal or addition of walls, partitions, and ceilings can negatively impact the effectiveness of the originally designed sprinkler system. In these instances, numerous sprinklers must often be relocated or added in order to appropriately protect the reconfigured space. This does not necessarily mean that the entire system must be reevaluated to ensure complete compliance with the latest edition of the standards. In fact, portions of the existing system that are not subject to the modifications can be considered previously approved under the retroactivity clause of NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems and do not need to be evaluated. Whenever additions or modifications are made to an existing system, enough of the existing system must be indicated on the plans to make all conditions clear for the AHJ to evaluate. This means that one of the first steps taken in these instances should be to gather as much of the existing plans and calculations, as is available. A more complex analysis might be required for the entire system if the original design basis cannot be confirmed. Hydraulic calculations While some have argued that minor modifications should not impact the system demand significantly enough to require calculations, NFPA 13 does require calculations be provided to verify that the system design flow rate will be achieved. Previous editions of the standard included an annex note indicating that it was not the intent to require a full hydraulic analysis of the existing sprinkler system, in addition to the new sprinkler layout. This note has been removed in recent editions. This still does not necessarily require a full set of hydraulic calculations particularly if the modifications are made in a part of the system that is not the most hydraulically demanding. In this case the modified portion of the system can be hydraulically calculated back to the branch line or riser to the point where original calculations are used to show that the design flow rate can be met.  This is not entirely clear in reading the standard especially without the previous annex note to point to so it is certainly worth checking with the local AHJ to determine what they will accept for these instances. Hydrostatic testing Newly installed sprinkler systems must be hydrostatically tested to check for leaks at a pressure of at least 200 psi (14 bar) for a period of at least 2 hours. When existing systems are modified such that the work affects less than 20 sprinklers, the system only requires testing at the system working pressure. Where the modification affects more than 20 sprinklers, that portion of the system must be isolated and tested at 200 psi (14 bar) for 2 hours. If the new work cannot be isolated, the testing can be done at system working pressure even if the modifications involved more than 20 sprinklers. In general, existing portions of the system do not need to be subjected to a new hydrostatic test. Striking a balance  Many buildings are routinely undergoing changes that can impact the fire sprinkler system and require modification of the system to adequately protect the space as it evolves. The provisions for existing system modifications in NFPA 13 are intended to ensure that the space has adequate coverage, the system demand can still be met, and the workmanship ofthe job has been completed well enough. This is meant to strike the appropriate balance between ensuring that the changes are not simply ignored, not throwing the entire latest standard out, and saying everything must be brought up to those requirements.
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