Fit the ‘personality’ of the facility:

Retrofitting a fire alarm system in a healthcare facility requires careful installation planning and understanding the facility’s nature; the primary code for a healthcare facility is National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101-2006, Life Safety Code. Additionally, the facility must address all of the issues reviewed by and the requirements imposed by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO).

The JCAHO mission is to improve the safety and quality of public care through the provision of healthcare accreditation and related services that support performance improvement in these organizations. JCAHO developed a document called “The Statement of Conditions [SOC].”

Healthcare organizations need to ensure their fire alarm systems meet the requirements of both the Life Safety Code and the National Fire Alarm Code NPFA 72 as part of the SOC compliance.

The fire alarm installed in any healthcare facility is used as both a management tool and a provision of the life safety afforded at the facility. The professional contractor understands these facilities will have unique fire protection requirements, and when it comes to retrofitting a new system in the building, the installation must be planned so as to not impair the overall safety provided to the staff members and patients.

Double up on safety

With that one primary condition in mind, the existing fire alarm system may have to remain in place during the installation of the new system. The plan could include installing the fire alarm control unit (FACU) and terminal cabinets on each floor or wing to enable the cut-over of the new fire alarm system while maintaining an acceptable level of life safety, using both the new and existing fire alarm system.

A typical plan might include the FACU installation and its connection to all of the automatic sprinkler system waterflow switches in the facility and the interconnection of the new system to the existing fire alarm and off-premises connection. The plan could then include the replacement of the detection devices and notification appliances by wing or floor.

Also important is that all fire alarm system impairments must be managed throughout the installation. Chapter 4 of NFPA 72-2007, section 4.6.1 requires the system owner or designated representative be notified when a fire alarm system or part thereof is impaired and that all impairments to systems must include out-of-service events. In addition, Annex “A” of NFPA 72-2007 states, “The need for mitigating measures is typically determined on a case-by-case basis. This considers the building, occupancy type, nature and duration of impairment, building occupancy level during impairment period, active work being conducted on the fire alarm system during the impairment, condition of other fire protection systems and features (i.e., sprinklers, structural compartmentation, etc.), and hazards and assets at risk.”

In a healthcare facility, the fire alarm must not be impaired if, for instance, the automatic sprinkler system is impaired. This requires the contractor to ensure the owner has no plans to have any work or testing performed on the sprinkler system until the retrofit work is complete.

Another issue that becomes important in the fire alarm retrofit in a healthcare facility is the Life Safety Code requirement to maintain all fire and smoke barriers throughout the facility. The professional contractor already knows that NFPA 70, Article 300.21 requires, “Electrical installations in hollow spaces, vertical shafts and ventilation or air-handling ducts shall be made so that the possible spread of fire or products of combustion will not be substantially increased. Openings around electrical penetrations through fire-resistant-rated walls, partitions, floors, or ceilings shall be firestopped using approved methods to maintain the fire-resistance rating.”

The code also contains a fine print note (FPN) that states, “Directories of electrical construction materials published by qualified testing laboratories contain many listing installation restrictions necessary to maintain the fire-resistive rating of assemblies where penetrations or openings are made. Building codes also contain restrictions on membrane penetrations on opposite sides of a fire-resistance-rated wall assembly. An example is the 600 mm (24-in.) minimum horizontal separation that usually applies between boxes installed on opposite sides of the wall. Assistance in complying with 300.21 can be found in building codes, fire resistance directories and product listings.”

One of the sometimes forgotten code requirements that applies to all retrofit fire installations—not only to healthcare facilities—appears in the code, section 760.3 (A), which states, “The accessible portion of abandoned fire alarm cables shall be removed.” This requirement obviously can be an expensive surprise to any contractor who does not stay current with code changes.

As with any electrical and fire alarm system installation, a complete knowledge of the codes and standards is important not only to a successful and profitable application, but in ensuring the safety and security of the building occupants.            

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.