Because a fire alarm system installation falls in Division 16 of the project specifications for new buildings, the electrical contractor normally will purchase the equipment and install the system. He or she may have a specialty crew to do this work or just assign whoever is available to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and shop drawings. Typically, after the system is installed and has been accepted by the fire authorities, the contractor moves on to the next project.
If you fall into this category, you are missing out on a recurring source of revenue that is driven by the National Fire Alarm Code.
Four specific factors govern the reliability of fire alarm systems: Design, Equipment, Installation and Testing/Maintenance.
Under normal circumstances, the electrical contractor has no control over the design of a fire alarm system and may not be able to substitute specified equipment. However, he or she does have total control over the installation and can ensure that the installation is accomplished in a quality, workmanlike and code-compliant manner.
Anecdotal studies of fire alarm system reliability have revealed that of the four factors that influence reliability, the most important are installation and testing/maintenance.
But after the typical one-year installation and equipment warranty expires, the electrical contractor is long gone and the owner may or may not maintain his or her fire alarm system. Whether they maintain the system or not usually is a result of either their awareness of the necessity to do so or the local code official informs them of their duty.
Generally, the electrical contractor has the opportunity to meet the owner during the final stages of building completion. Section 10.2.2.1 of NFPA 72-2002 requires that “The owner or the owners designated representative shall be responsible for inspection, testing and maintenance of the system and alterations or additions to this system.” Armed with this knowledge, the electrical contractor can approach the owner with a proposal to provide these services.
But before a contractor jumps at this opportunity to add to his or her services and take advantage of a profitable source of recurring revenue, they must be ready to commit to ensuring their technicians are trained to not only test the system but also be in a position to repair the fire alarm equipment. This training can be obtained from the manufacturer or the contractor’s supplier. Additional training can be obtained from NECA (www.neca.org), the National Fire Protection Association (www.nfpa.org) and the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (www.afaa.org).
Of course, to offer these services, contractors must commit to having qualified technicians available on a 24/7 basis to meet the owner’s needs for emergency service as well as scheduled testing and maintenance calls.
What does it take to establish an inspection, testing and maintenance program?
Inspection, testing and maintenance programs must satisfy the requirements of this NFPA 72-2002, conform to the equipment manufacturer’s recommendations, and must verify correct operation of the fire alarm system. In addition to developing the trained technicians to perform the work, contracts, test forms and record retention programs must be developed to ensure compliance with NFPA 72-2002.
Records must be retained for each test until the next test and for one year thereafter. These records must be on a medium that will survive the retention period of one year and can either be paper or electronic media.
Figure 10.6.2.3 of NFPA 72-2002 represents a typical test record format that includes all of the required applicable information such as:
(2) Test frequency
(3) Name of property
(5) Name of person performing inspection, maintenance, tests or combination thereof, and affiliation, business address and telephone number
(6) Name, address and representative of approving agency
(7) Designation of the detector(s) tested; for example, “Tests performed in accordance with Chapter 10, Section _____.”
(8) Functional test of detectors
(9) Functional test of required sequence of operations
(10) Check of all smoke detectors
(11) Loop resistance for all fixed-temperature, line-type heat detectors
(12) Other tests as required by equipment manufacturers
(13) Other tests as required by the authority having jurisdiction
(14) Signatures of tester and approved authority representative
(15) Disposition of problems identified during test (e.g., owner notified, problem corrected/successfully retested, etc.)
If an electrical contractor chooses to make the effort, he or she may find that testing and maintaining fire alarm systems can not only be a recurring source of revenue but also may lead to additional electrical work—and at the same time provide the gratification of keeping life safety systems in a reliable operating condition. EC
MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a co-editor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office.