Contractors who have developed their fire alarm system maintenance and testing business and specialize in the retrofit markets have already seen the financial benefits associated with these specialized businesses. However, these contractors may not be familiar with the requirements in NFPA 72-2002 regarding system impairments. Whether you are servicing an existing fire alarm system or installing a replacement system, you are inevitably “impairing” the operation of the system.

NFPA 72-2002 provides the minimum requirements for a fire alarm system impairment program. Adequate measures must be taken during the impairment to ensure that increased fire and life safety risks are minimized and the duration of the impairment is limited to the actual time necessary to repair the system.

The building owner is encouraged to assign an impairment coordinator to comply with the requirements of the code, and NFPA 72-2002 states that “in the absence of a specific designee, the owner shall be considered the impairment coordinator.”

The code does allow that where the lease or similar contractual arrangements specifically grants the authority for inspection, testing and maintenance of the fire alarm system(s) to the tenant, management firm or managing individual, the tenant, management firm or managing individual is responsible to assign a person as the impairment coordinator.

The contractor should establish procedures in the company to ensure all technicians understand the need and importance of the impairment plan. For instance, a tag system that indicates a system, or part thereof, has been removed from service is a recommended way to inform everyone working on the system that it is impaired. It is required that a tag be posted at each impaired fire alarm control panel and remote annunciator panel. Generally, the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) will specify where the tag is to be placed. Obviously, a clearly visible tag alerts building occupants and the fire department that the fire alarm system is out of service.

Typically, the impaired equipment that should be considered includes the fire alarm system and all associated equipment such as standby power and off premises connection equipment.

The list of equipment includes but is not limited to the following: fire alarm control panel, alarm notification devices, detection devices and control devices.

Most impairments can be preplanned. For this to be properly conducted, the preplanned impairments must be authorized by the impairment coordinator. Before authorization is given, the impairment coordinator shall be responsible for verifying that the following procedures have been implemented:

1. The extent and expected duration of the impairment have been determined.

2. The areas or buildings involved have been inspected and the increased risks determined.

3. Recommendations have been submitted to the management or building owner/manager.

Where a required fire alarm system is out of service for more than four hours in a 24-hour period, the impairment coordinator should arrange for one of the following:

1. The building or portion of the building affected by the system out of service is evacuated.

2. An approved fire watch is established.

3. Temporary detection and notification is established.

4. An approved program to eliminate potential ignition sources and limit the amount of fuel available to the fire is established and implemented.

5. The fire department has been notified.

6. The insurance carrier, the alarm company, building owner/manager and other AHJs have been notified.

7. The supervisors in the areas to be affected have been notified.

8. A tag impairment system has been implemented.

9. All necessary tools and materials have been assembled at the impairment site.

Depending on the seriousness of the impairment, there may be a need for temporary fire protection or increased inspections of areas where there are hazardous operations conducted. When using a fire watch to mitigate the fire alarm system impairment, the personnel must be trained and should continuously patrol the affected area. During the patrol of the area, this person should not only be looking for fire, but making sure that the other fire protection features of the building such as egress routes and sprinkler systems are available and functioning properly.

When you have finished with your tests or repairs and the impaired equipment is restored to normal, it is important to verify all systems are operational and those previously notified of the impairment are notified of its conclusion. Remember, when you test or repair a fire alarm system, you are impairing the operation of that system. Ensure you understand the seriousness of the impairment before conducting the tests and repairs.     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.