During a recent NFPA fire alarm systems seminar, a gentleman introduced himself and his two technicians. They had traveled quite a distance. Knowing NFPA planned a future seminar in his state, I asked why he did not wait to attend the closer seminar.

“Well, we just signed our first fire alarm project ever, and we have to install it next week,” he said. “We already have the equipment, so we thought we would come to this seminar to learn what to do.”

This man at least had good intentions by trying to educate himself. However, he had chosen to cut his timing pretty close to the limit.

As I listened to this contractor talk about this new job, I wondered, “Who designed the fire alarm system?” It was substandard. I was saddened to learn that he had. After he completed the seminar program, I do not know if he went home and changed the design or the bid, but I hope he did.

Although NFPA 72-2007 is titled National Fire Alarm Code, it really serves as an installation and application standard. Assuming he learned a great deal in class, maybe he will get it right. I have a picture in my mind of this gentleman and his technicians standing at the project with a detector in one hand and the code in the other saying, “Are you sure we are supposed to install it that way?”

Obviously, he would have been better off if he had attended the seminar program before he sold his first project. At least then he would have known how many detectors he needed and at what spacing he should install them. He also would have known to ask the owner for his or her fire protection goals before moving forward with the design.

Hopefully, as a professional electrical contractor, you will never find yourself in this position of putting the cart before the horse. But the story points out some interesting issues.

In a design/build project, you know sometimes you have to make decisions in the field to adjust the system installation to accommodate changes in the construction of the building. Wouldn’t the timing of those decisions be better if you already had the training and code background to ensure you did things right?

Unfortunately, the National Fire Alarm Code changes every three years just like the National Electrical Code. This fact alone requires constant vigilance on your part to stay abreast of these changes. Understanding the changes will help ensure that your electricians and your company do not make a costly mistake. And, in the case of both of these codes, a costly mistake could result in lost lives in addition to lost revenue.

It makes sense to acknowledge that one person in your company should be in charge of ensuring the codes in your library are up-to-date. It also makes sense to purchase the books or magazines that will highlight the changes from edition to edition, so you and your staff can stay on top of the changes.

I often preach in these pages about the importance of training. In the area of keeping up with changes to the codes, in-house training is an inexpensive way to keep your electricians up-to-date. After all, shouldn’t they know changes to the codes that will affect their daily work? Of course they should. And in-house training offers the opportunity to review code issues that come up frequently in the field. These include items such as the proper location of detection devices and notification appliances. Such training also provides an opportunity to dispel misinformation about code requirements and specific code issues that you find your technicians have not understood or followed. Just informing your electricians of the scope and purpose of NFPA 72-2007 will improve their basic understanding of where to look when they have a question regarding fire alarm systems.

As it states in the code, “NFPA 72 covers the application, installation, location, performance, inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire alarm systems, fire warning equipment and emergency warning equipment, and their components.” It also states that the “code defines the features associated with these systems and also provides information necessary to modify or upgrade an existing system.”

As mentioned here a number of times, training (or the lack thereof) affects your bottom line. Imagine yourself in the predicament of the gentleman I told you about at the beginning of this column. Imagine being the one who sold a life safety system with no knowledge of the codes and standards you should follow. And then, imagine trying to defend yourself in court when a fire alarm system does not perform as expected.  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.