In the chaos of finishing a large electrical project on time, it can be difficult to focus on commissioning the fire alarm system. This helps ensure the reliability of the system “after installation by identifying problems and providing a baseline of values for comparison with subsequent tests,” according to the Department of the Army Technical Manual.

The Army Technical Manual suggests that a contractor should develop a commissioning plan, or a “road map,” to outline what steps to take in order to verify a proper system installation. It goes on to say, “Specific areas addressed in a commissioning plan include the verification of the installation of all equipment/components, interface connections between equipment and individual systems, and interconnection drawings.”

A commissioning plan specific to the fire alarm system will determine the usefulness of any maintenance program. Thinking through the commissioning plan ahead of time will save time and money. Typically a commissioning plan accounts for the following:

°Initial commissioning meeting

°Review of the statement of work

°Review of drawing submittals

°Approval meeting with owner, fire official, engineer

°Develop and provide the systems operation document/systems operation and maintenance manual

°Submit functional performance tests

°Develop quality assurance procedures

°Review the functional performance tests (Ensure all functions of the system are being tested, all major components are included, the tests reflect system operating documents and the tests make sense.)

°Make changes to the functional performance tests as needed

°Have the commissioning team approve the final functional performance tests

°Perform the tests with a third-party oversight

°Turn the system over to the owner

In previous columns, I have defined the “operational reliability” of a fire alarm system as the ability of the system to respond to a fire condition when needed. I have also emphasized that of the four elements of operational reliability-design, equipment, installation and maintenance-installation and maintenance affect operational reliability the most. The manual states that installation and maintenance will prove “critical to ensuring the [fire alarm] system is installed properly and will remain in service for its projected life cycle.”

Commissioning of a fire alarm system includes testing the system after the installation is complete. The National Fire Alarm Code, NFPA 72-2002, Chapter 10 is devoted to specific requirements and testing procedures that a contractor must follow to ensure that a fire alarm system is and remains fully operational. The code states in section 10.1.1, “The inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire alarm systems, their initiating devices, and notification appliances shall comply with the requirements of this chapter.”

A contractor should keep in mind that Chapter 10 of NFPA 72-2002 applies to both new and existing systems (section 10.1.4).

NFPA 72 requires that all inspection, testing and maintenance programs comply with the equipment manufacturer's recommendations. It also requires that all tests verify the correct operation of the fire alarm system.

Any commissioning plan must include acceptable test methods that a contractor will use to ensure the correct operation of the fire alarm system equipment. NFPA 72-2002 lists the required and acceptable test methods in Table 10.4.2.2 for all fire alarm equipment and accessory equipment.

In addition to performing a 100 percent test of all devices and appliances, recording sound levels of all audible notification appliances and measuring distances covered by visible notification appliances, NFPA 72-2002 requires that the contractor make a record of all tests conducted.

The testing process will cause impairment to the fire alarm system. It does not normally represent a major issue when a contractor conducts the acceptance test of a system in a new building, because the building is not normally occupied. However, if the contractor commissions a new fire alarm system in an existing building, then the contractor must give attention to the resulting impairment. For example, the code requires that the contractor notify the owner, or the owner's designated representative, of any impairment, including impairments that take the system “out of service.”

Often the code official will require the contractor to take some form of mitigating measures, such as maintaining a fire watch, during the duration of the impairment. The code also requires that the contractor promptly repair any system defect found during the testing. If the contractor cannot correct such a defect within 24 hours, the contractor must notify the owner of the fire alarm system's impaired condition.

Ensuring that a contractor follows a detailed and rigorous testing and commissioning process before the fire code official appears on-site will not only save time and money in the long run, but will increase the contractor's reputation as a professional. 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.