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Author(s): Wayne Moore. Published on November 1, 2016.

How documentation provides a path to increased fire alarm systems reliability


LACK OF MAINTENANCE persists as a major issue affecting the reliability of fire alarm system installations. The 2016 edition of NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, places the responsibility of ensuring that a fire alarm system receives proper inspection, testing, and maintenance squarely on the shoulders of the system owner. For many revision cycles of the code, the technical committee has grappled with how to help owners meet this responsibility.

One of the more concrete methods requires proper, detailed system documentation throughout the design, installation, and acceptance testing of each system. A consolidation of the requirements for system documentation into a new Chapter 7 first appeared in the 2013 edition of the code, and the 2016 edition has updated these requirements.

As stated in Annex A for Section 7.2, all the details required in Chapter 7 are not intended to apply to every fire alarm system installation. The technical committee expects that the more complex the fire alarm system, the more important, and more stringent, the requirements for documentation will become. The committee intends to allow authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) to require more detailed documentation as the complexity of the system increases. This will give AHJs the necessary documentation to feel comfortable when approving an installation. In fact, most fire alarm systems will require only the minimum documentation, as shown in the excerpted list from Section 7.2, which follows.

The list of documentation requirements begins with the designer providing a written narrative describing the intent and providing a description of the system. This written narrative gives all stakeholders involved with the installation and approval of the fire alarm system a plain-English description of the work necessary for installation. As stated in Annex A for Section 7.2, “It could be desirable to include why or by whose direction the work is being done, such as ‘at owner’s request,’ ‘per specifications dated …,’ or ‘at the direction of….’” For example, if the system includes more detection than the codes require because the owner has requested a more robust system, then the narrative should make note of that fact.

In addition to the written narrative, NFPA 72 includes the following minimum documentation requirements:

» Riser diagram

» Floor plan layout showing locations of all devices, control equipment, and supervising station and shared communications equipment with each sheet showing point of compass (north arrow), a graphic representation of the scale used, room use identification, and building features that will affect the placement of initiating devices and notification appliances

» Sequence of operation in either an input/output matrix or narrative form

» Equipment technical data sheets

» Manufacturers’ published instructions, including operation and maintenance instructions

» Battery capacity and de-rating calculations (where batteries are provided)

» Voltage drop calculations for notification appliance circuits

» Mounting height elevation for wall-mounted devices and appliances

» Where occupant notification is required, minimum sound pressure levels that must be produced by the audible notification appliances in applicable covered areas

» Pathway diagrams between the control unit and the supervising station and shared communications equipment

» Completed record of completion in accordance with 7.5.6 and 7.8.2

» For software-based systems, a copy of site-specific software, including specific instructions on how to obtain the means of system and software access (password)

» Record (as-built) drawings

» Records, record retention, and record maintenance in accordance with Section 7.7

» Completed record of inspection and testing in accordance with 7.6.6 and 7.8.2

The system designer must include his or her name and contact information.

Now that these requirements have existed in the code for two cycles, AHJs have enforceable language to ensure compliance. Requiring this information for every newly installed fire alarm system will greatly enhance the ability of the owner to see to the performance of the required inspections, testing, and maintenance. When a qualified person performs the proper code-required inspection, testing, and maintenance, the fire alarm system operational reliability will increase and false alarms will decrease.

WAYNE D. MOORE is vice president at JENSEN HUGHES.