In this age of e-mails, cell phones and text messages, every contracting project seems to take on an urgency. The mantra everyone seems to voice is, “Get it done now!” Along with this comes the inherent problem of finishing projects, while maintaining the attitude that the installation must follow proper procedures and proper work practices.

The age of the patient craftsman seems to be over. How do you feel when you reach the end of the overall project? You are called on to finish the fire alarm system, so the authority having jurisdiction can approve your work and issue the certificate of occupancy. And it needs to be done quickly.

Many unreliable—meaning the system won’t work properly when called upon to do so—fire alarm system installations begin with this issue.

Operational reliability of a fire alarm system consists of four elements: design, equipment, installation and maintenance. Of these elements, installation and maintenance have the greatest impact on the operational reliability of a fire alarm system.

Some of you may think reducing false alarms in a fire alarm system will make the system reliable. Actually, reducing the false alarms from a fire alarm system will make the system more credible, which is also important. A more credible system reduces the “cry-wolf” syndrome. But credibility and reliability do not necessarily possess the same elements of quality. Fortunately, NFPA 72-2007 has requirements to improve both reliability and credibility of installed fire alarm systems.

For example, the following excerpts from the 2007 National Fire Alarm Code speak to reducing false alarms and, therefore, increasing the credibility of the installed system.

5.7.1.7 The selection and placement of smoke detectors shall take into account both the performance characteristics of the detector and the areas into which the detectors are to be installed to prevent nuisance alarms or improper operation after installation.

5.7.1.8 Unless specifically designed and listed for the expected conditions, smoke detectors shall not be installed if any of the following ambient conditions exist:

(1) Temperature below 0°C (32°F)

(2) Temperature above 38°C (100°F)

(3) Relative humidity above 93 percent

(4) Air velocity greater than 1.5 m/sec (300 ft/min)

5.7.1.9 The location of smoke detectors shall be based on an evaluation of potential ambient sources of smoke, moisture, dust, or fumes, and electrical or mechanical influences to minimize nuisance alarms.

5.7.1.11 Detectors shall not be installed until after the construction cleanup of all trades is complete and final.

“Exception: Where required by the authority having jurisdiction for protection during construction. Detectors that have been installed during construction and found to have a sensitivity outside the listed and marked sensitivity range shall be cleaned or replaced in accordance with Chapter 10 at completion of construction.”

The entire code-writing community has dedicated the code to provide installation requirements that will help ensure a suitably high operational reliability. In fact, the code states its purpose “is to define … the levels of performance; and the reliability of the various types of fire alarm systems.” It “establishes minimum required levels of performance, extent of redundancy, and quality of installation… .” “Reliable,” “reliability” and “quality” appear 54 times throughout the code.

Obviously, operational reliability remains an important concept to the NFPA 72 Technical Committees.

I understand words in a document mean something only if the reader heeds them and takes appropriate action.

I believe you must understand the principle that when you accept the job to install a fire alarm system, you also inherently accept the responsibility for the life safety of the building occupants. This should encourage you to slow down and install the fire alarm system in a workmanlike manner.

From a profit motive, a contractor understands that callbacks to fix something on a recently completed project can drain the profits. My first boss said to me, “Why is there time to do it over, but never time to do it right the first time?”

So there lies the crux of the problem. Maybe we have become so enamored with the fast pace of our world that we simply assume a fire alarm system installation will take less time than it really does. And, when we discover our mistake, we assume working faster will help put the profit back into the job.

The sad fact of the matter remains: A properly installed code-compliant fire alarm system takes time. The wise contractor will realize that a fire alarm system exists as the one building system that he or she must install correctly the first time. Realizing this, he or she will plan accordingly. The people you protect will express their gratitude that you took the time to get it done and to get it done right. 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.