Understand related systems and learn important cues

Why do many contractors continue to avoid scheduling the fire alarm system installation inspection? Is it because they know the system might fail the acceptance test and, as such, would thereby delay occupancy?

The electrical contractor has an obligation to ensure the power is working throughout the building and that the connections to all of the other building systems are working safely and properly. But in order for the fire authority to grant the certificate of occupancy, the life safety system must be tested in accordance with prevailing codes and standards.

Why not take an active approach to solving the problem and schedule the fire alarm system installation as early as possible to avoid this stressful encounter?

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 72-2002, the National Fire Alarm Code, has a requirement to avoid premature installations. Section 5.7.1.11 of the code states, “Detectors shall not be installed until after the construction cleanup of all trades is complete and final.”

The section allows the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to require protection during construction but then requires the contractor to check smoke detector sensitivity and cleanliness and to clean or replace all detectors that may fall out of tolerance. This requirement is to avoid false alarms from the early installation of smoke detectors. It does not say you cannot install all of the raceway, wiring, addressable devices, heat detectors, power supplies and fire alarm control units (FACU) early.

It would appear that because the AHJs have hammered the issue of reducing false alarms from the premature installation of smoke detectors, some contractors might wait until the end of the project to install and test the entire installation.

Most contractors know that each smoke detector is shipped with a plastic protective cover to ensure the device remains relatively clean while construction continues around it. These covers will keep out most contaminants and must be used if the construction cleanup of other trades is ongoing during the smoke detector installation. So a plan can be made to install a fire alarm system well before the final acceptance test of the fire department will occur.

What else is important? The fire alarm system will be connected to the elevator system to actuate the recall requirements of ANSI/ASME A17.1, Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators. Normally, the elevators have been installed and are in working condition well before the building is scheduled for occupancy, so these connections to the FACU can be made and tested prior to the fire department acceptance test. Connections to the smoke control and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system will depend on how fast mechanical contractors can finish their work. Obviously, a little coordination in this area can go a long way to preventing a failed acceptance test.

Although the smoke and fire doors may not be installed until just before building occupancy, the magnetic door holder/release devices can be wired in their location to test their release capability. Again, a little coordination with the door supplier/installer (possibly the general contractor) goes a long way. In addition, coordination with the sprinkler contractor will help ensure waterflow and tamper switches are monitored properly as well as the fire pump if one is present.

The code requires that the method of interconnection between the fire alarm system and controlled electrical and mechanical systems shall be monitored for integrity and comply with the applicable provisions of NFPA 70, National Electrical Code, Article 760. Additionally, the code provides guidance on the recognized means to make these interconnections, such as electrical contacts listed for the connected load, data communications over signaling line circuit(s) dedicated to the fire alarm or shared with other premises operating systems and other listed methods.

Contractors must understand the correct operation of non-fire systems as required by the National Fire Alarm Code. Other codes or standards that apply will be part of the test by the fire authority. If any of the interfaced systems fail to operate, the acceptance test will fail. While it may be easy to point fingers at other contractors’ failures, the bottom line is the test failed.

The solution to this problem means more than better scheduling. The professional electrical contractor’s project foreman must make the effort to coordinate the fire alarm installation with the appropriate trades whose work may also interface with the life safety system. The professional electrical contractor must ensure his or her project managers understand the necessity for both fire alarm system installation schedules and coordinating with other contractors to foster a successful fire alarm system acceptance test.

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. and is located at the Warwick, R.I., office.