Last month, in part one of this article, we said the National Electrical Code (NEC) and the “National Fire Alarm Code” from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) were two of the most important resources needed to properly install a fire-alarm system. And you discovered a major difference between fire-alarm systems and basic electrical systems was a codes-and-standards process that regulates the fire-alarm system installation and application over and above NEC requirements.
Part one also contained references to help better understand and gain proficiency in code-compliant fire-alarm system installation. Another reference helpful in learning fire and fire growth basics is NFPA’s “Fire Protection Handbook,” which includes information about all related fire-protection systems you will encounter, such as preaction automatic sprinkler systems, hood extinguishing systems and other gaseous suppression systems. The handbook also contains valuable information about other aspects of fire-alarm systems, special-detection systems, and interfacing fire-alarm systems with other fire-safety functions, such as smoke control or elevator-recall systems. It also offers an introductory section on fire-alarm systems. NFPA also publishes a “National Fire Alarm Code Handbook,” which provides background information on the code requirements as well as additional guidance on the meaning and use of the requirements. For more advanced technical reading, I recommend Robert M. Gagnon’s “Design of Special Hazard & Fire Alarm Systems.” The book’s format makes it easy to understand fire-alarm system plans, review and layout, and provides review questions and activities for self-study. This is a useful text for training your journeymen and their helpers in understanding basic fire-alarm system concepts.
The other important phase of your education in the fire-alarm systems field is experience. To gain the appropriate experience in systems installations, it’s strongly recommend that you begin with small systems and work up to the larger, analog-addressable voice-communications systems. Regardless, you will need this field experience to round out your fire-alarm systems installation knowledge base. This field experience must include specific equipment training by your fire-alarm system equipment suppliers as well. With today’s more-sophisticated fire-alarm systems, your technicians will need a background in basic computer skills in addition to proper installation techniques. This type of training can be obtained from your equipment suppliers.
Here’s the checklist promised in the first part of this article:
1. Obtain and study the applicable codes and standards.
2. Understand what part the authority having jurisdiction plays in the installation, and why he or she should be considered an ally.
3. Attend training programs concerning codes and standards, installation basics and advanced applications of fire alarm systems.
4. Learn the “right” way to design and apply fire-detection devices.
5. Learn the basics of fire growth and its effect on detection.
6. Start the experience portion of your education with small systems
7. Provide a service contract (testing, inspection and maintenance) for every fire-alarm system you sell.
Once proper and efficient installation skills have been mastered, you must accept the added responsibility to ensure your systems will work when needed. We consider this ability to work when called upon the system’s “mission effectiveness,” which means providing reliable equipment, quality installation and follow-up maintenance.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of testing and maintaining fire-alarm systems. You cannot simply install a fire-alarm system and walk away. To comply with the code, you must inform the owner of his or her responsibility to maintain the installation. Every system you install should include a service contract that allows the owner to comply with the applicable codes. If the owner chooses not to maintain the system after installation, make sure your records indicate a service contract was offered and the owner refused. It is the owner’s responsibility to test and maintain the system, but it is your professional responsibility to make the owner aware of code requirements.
If you want to install code-compliant fire-alarm systems, and want them to function reliably and properly when called upon, prepare yourself well and plan ahead. Then, when a fire occurs in a building where you made an installation, you will hear the most gratifying words: “We’ve just had a fire, and your system worked!” 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.