Unfortunately, a fire alarm system usually is the last system to be finished and acceptance tested in a newly constructed building. The code more or less requires this, as Section 17.7.1.11.3 of NFPA 72-2010, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, states that, “Where detection is not required during construction, [smoke] detectors shall not be installed until after all other construction trades have completed cleanup.” In most cases, detection is not required during construction and then you, as the contractor, cannot acceptance-test the fire alarm system until after all other construction trades have completed cleanup, and you have installed the smoke detectors and finished programming the control panel.

This puts a lot of pressure on the fire alarm contractor because, at this point in the construction process, the owner anxiously awaits the opportunity to move into the building, the general contractor wants to get the Certificate of Occupancy, and everyone wants to get paid! Nevertheless, you must perform a 100 percent acceptance test of all fire alarm initiating devices and notification appliances. You must also verify the fire alarm system operation and interfaced fire protection systems operation, such as elevator recall; the heating, ventilating and air conditioning shutdown; and any other fire safety functions initiated by the fire system.

One of the first “tools” you will need is a test plan. You need to coordinate with the other trades where you interface with their systems. You should establish the test plan early in the installation, so that you will have all of the contact names and cell phone numbers of those responsible for the interfaced systems when you need them at the project closeout. Although you may not feel that you have the responsibility to coordinate the testing of the interfaced systems, not doing so will simply delay your approval from the fire inspector. This will, in turn, cause a delay in the issuance of the occupancy permit.

By preparing for the acceptance test of these interfaced systems, you help to ensure a successful encounter with the fire inspector. You should also ensure that you have the necessary equipment available on-site at the time set aside to witness the operational features of these integrated life safety building systems. Having the necessary equipment available will expedite acceptance testing, so you should plan to provide the following documentation and testing equipment:

1 Fire alarm system manufacturer’s instructions

2 Construction documents and as-built drawings

3 Approved narrative description

4 Sound level meters

5 Voltage meters

6 Test magnets and/or test spray for smoke detectors

7 Communication radios (if necessary)

8 Any necessary special tools, ladders, pieces of equipment, etc.

9 Fire alarm testing notification announcements

10 Acceptance testing preapprovals

11 A completed and signed (by all required parties) NFPA 72-2010, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, “Record of Completion”

Chapter 14 of NFPA 72-2010 has specific requirements for testing that, in turn, dictate specific tools that are necessary to comply with the code. For example, you must test heat detectors with a heat source in accordance with the manufacturer’s published instructions. You must test smoke detectors and smoke alarms in place to ensure smoke entry into the sensing chamber and to verify an alarm response. You may test with smoke or listed aerosol, acceptable to the manufacturer of the smoke detector or smoke alarm and identified in the manufacturer’s published instructions.

You must measure sound pressure levels for alarm notification appliances with a device meeting ANSI S1.4a, Specifications for Sound Level Meters, Type 2 requirements. Confirm that sound pressure levels throughout the protected area comply with the code-mandated sound levels. You must set the sound level meter in accordance with ANSI S3.41, American National Standard Audible Evacuation Signal, using the time-weighted characteristic F (FAST).

One of the more misunderstood fire alarm system testing requirements involves the testing of voice systems. The code requires all voice systems to meet the stated audibility requirements. The code also requires all voice systems to meet intelligibility requirements. In other words, the fire alarm system must produce voice messages that have sufficient volume, so the occupants can hear the messages; and the fire alarm system must produce voice messages that have sufficient intelligibility, so that the occupants can understand the messages.

The code does not require you to measure intelligibility, but it provides guidance should the need arise to verify a system that has marginal intelligibility.

Finally, your test plan should include having a technical representative of the fire alarm system equipment manufacturer on-site for all tests. Should a program issue arise during the test, you want to ensure that it is corrected in time to obtain the code official’s approval.

Having the right tools does not mean just possessing the physical test equipment. You must also have all the items stated above to ensure a complete, satisfactory test of the fire alarm system.

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.