Author(s): Wayne Moore. Published on November 4, 2014.

ANYONE WHO HAS READ the 2013 edition of NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, knows that it doesn’t exactly read like a suspense novel written by Tom Clancy or Daniel Silva. In fact, no one typically reads any code or standard until they have a design, installation, or approval issue to address. At least I certainly hope designers and installers will read the code before they begin a design or start an installation.

That said, the reaction of contractors still surprises me when I’m at new construction sites and discover non-compliant installations. I carefully explain to contractors that what they’ve installed does not meet the requirements of NFPA 72. Most of the time, the contractors express shock and dismay. In almost every case, the contractors admit that they haven’t read the code and do not know which edition this particular jurisdiction enforces.

It’s a mistake that contractors can easily avoid. The scope of the 2013 edition of NFPA 72 clearly states that the code contains the “minimum required levels of performance” for the “application, installation, location, performance, inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire alarm systems, supervising station alarm systems, public emergency alarm reporting systems, fire warning equipment and emergency communications systems (ECS), and their components.”

By following the code, the contractor ensures the fire alarm system installation meets the minimum requirements for a system that provides life safety to the occupants. Additionally, the code addresses the confusion many contractors have with thinking that NFPA 72 requires a system with more protection features than another document—such as NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, or NFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code®—might require. The code clearly states that the requirements found in it “shall not be interpreted to require a level of protection that is greater than required by the applicable building or fire code.”

With more than 300 pages of material, including 150 pages of installation requirements, it’s easy to understand why the code can seem intimidating to many users. But the members of the NFPA technical committees associated with NFPA 72 strive to make the requirements clear and useful. Most of the requirements originated as a result of faults found in existing systems, or from failures of fire alarm systems to properly perform during a fire emergency.

Thus, anyone reading the code should not take the requirements lightly.

Following the requirements of a code helps to ensure a minimum level of operational reliability for installed fire alarm systems to protect the public and to help minimize false alarms. The NFPA standards-making process encourages everyone to have input. Those in the field attempting to use and follow NFPA 72 should submit proposals that address any issue they find that could affect the operational reliability of installed fire alarm systems.

Contractors need to know that NFPA publishes a free read-only version of the complete code online. This allows users of the code to refer to it on their smartphones—a big help for contractors in the field who may not have ready access to a hard copy of the code. Those of us more familiar with the code can help make sure contractors and authorities having jurisdiction know the importance of this free-access online version of NFPA 72.

Wayne D. Moore, P.E., FSFPE, is vice president at Hughes Associates.