Commissioning fire detection and alarm systems

Normally, a fire alarmis the last system to be commissioned on a project. The owner, of course, wants to obtain the certificate of occupancy and move into his or her building. Sadly, if the fire alarm system does not pass the acceptance test in the presence of the fire department, this can delay the issuance of a certificate of occupancy. Therefore, the contractor must properly prepare the fire alarm system for commissioning.

The preparation procedures should include checks that the contractor has:

  • Ensured all equipment is installed in conformance with NFPA 70, National Electrical Code (NEC), and NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code and ensured the proper installation of the fire alarm circuits in accordance with NEC Article 760.8, “Mechanical Execution of Work,” which states in part, “Fire alarm circuits shall be installed in a neat workmanlike manner.”

  • Tested all circuits and found no grounds or short circuits

  • Installed the correct unimpaired power sources and installed all specified devices and appliances

  • Programmed the FACU in accordance with the Operational Matrix

  • Checked that all other trades have completed their work and cleared the areas where the contractor has installed smoke detectors. (The contractor installing the fire alarm system should take the lead for coordination)

  • Completed the programming of all devices and the interface to all other systems, and ensured these systems are ready for pretesting with the fire alarm system

  • Readied the connection to the fire department or other supervising station for testing and applied power to the system

  • Inspected, troubleshot and cleared all trouble signals indicated on the FACU

  • Completed a 100 percent pretest on all devices and appliances: tested all interfaces to ensure correct operation, printed-out sensitivity readings for all smoke detectors and tested the connection to the monitoring supervising station or fire department.

After completing the preceding list, the contractor may schedule the formal acceptance test. Should a contractor perform an acceptance test when the general contractor (GC) demands it or when the GC calls the inspector and then notifies the contractor?

The answer is when a contractor has pretested the system and is confident that it will perform as specified. As a contractor, you remain responsible for all interfaces. For this reason, you must coordinate the test with the other contractors who installed the interfaced systems, such as HVAC, automatic sprinkler systems, elevators and smoke control systems to name a few.

You should plan for at least two technicians with tools and all of the equipment necessary for the test, including, but not limited to, a sound pressure level meter, ladders, special equipment and test spray for smoke detectors. You also must schedule the fire alarm system manufacturer’s representative to be on-site during the test to troubleshoot, perform program changes found during the test and provide spare parts for defective items found.

The operation matrix or narrative comprises one of the more important documents necessary to properly test the system. This document will help ensure that the contractor tests the specified operation of each interfaced system for compliance.

Of course, the fire inspector is the most important person present at the acceptance test. The owner may or may not attend the test. Or, he or she may have a third-party consulting engineer to ensure the proper test completion and that the system truly meets the owner’s fire protection goals.

Many fire inspectors consider several documents part of the test. A fire inspector may insist on reviewing these documents before he or she will attend the test. These documents include the record of completion [prepared and signed by the installation contractor, the service contractor (if different), the monitoring station representative and the property representative]; the as-built drawings completed by the installing contractor; the copy of system narrative; the copy of operational matrix from the submittal process; the system operational manual; the copy of approved submittal; the blank test report; and, where required, the verification of compliant installation.

A successful test begins as a testing plan. The contractor should follow this plan throughout the pretest and the actual acceptance test. It makes sense to test the interfaced systems first and then test the notification appliances for audibility, intelligibility (if applicable) and visibility. You remain fully responsible to test 100 percent of all devices and appliances connected to the system, regardless of whether the fire inspector wants to witness the entire test. You will want to do so to gain confidence that the system works completely. NFPA 72-2002, Table 10.4.2.2, outlines the proper test methods.

By planning ahead, the electrical contractor avoids the confrontations and disappointments when a failed test delays the certificate of occupancy issuance.     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. and is located at the Warwick, R.I., office.