I often find contractors misunderstand the installation and application requirements of the codes and standards they are required to follow when performing fire alarm system installations. The problems and mistakes often arise from misinformation they have received from fire officials or from other contractors. Most of the time, contractors assume peers or fire officials know the code better than they do.

As I’ve often stated in this column, there is no better way for a contractor to lose money than to ignore the importance of personally reading and understanding the codes that apply to his or her livelihood. Many fire officials do not have the training or the opportunity to study the code. And, certainly few of them understand the intricacies of fire alarm system wiring and equipment. Because of this lack of understanding, they will often assume information provided to them by alarm installers accurately represents the actual requirements of NFPA 72 2010, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code and never take the time to confirm the information. Then they continue to enforce those inaccurate requirements on every new installation in their jurisdiction. These same officials, when attending National Fire Protection Association training programs, will ask where in the code to find these misunderstood requirements that they have been enforcing, only to find out it doesn’t appear in the code as they thought.

The most common misunderstanding falls under NFPA 72 requirements of the installation of a fire alarm system. Section 1.2.4 of NFPA 72 2010 clearly states, “This Code shall not be interpreted to require a level of protection that is greater than that which would otherwise be required by the applicable building or fire code.” And, the annex of the code further clarifies: “The intent of this paragraph is to make it clear that the protection requirements are derived from the applicable building or fire code, not from NFPA 72.”

Unfortunately, many fire officials do not reasonably understand the building codes and assume that NFPA 72 represents the only document they need to enforce. They clearly do not understand the purpose of the code, which is “to define the means of signal initiation, transmission, notification, and annunciation; the levels of performance; and the reliability of the various types of fire alarm systems, supervising station alarm systems, public emergency alarm reporting systems, fire warning equipment, emergency communications systems, and their components.”

But, take this scenario: as a contractor, you are on the job and the fire official demands changes to your installation that you don’t believe are in the code. What do you do?

If you personally don’t know the code, you will spend your valuable dollars to comply with the fire official’s arbitrary and capricious demands. Or, if you are smarter than many of your peers, you will have a copy of the code in your truck. Then you can ask the fire official to review his demand with you to determine what the code specifically requires.

This event does not have to be confrontational. It can simply be a polite request to confirm the code requirement. If you have a copy of the current code in your truck, you will already impress 99 percent of the fire officials you encounter because many of them don’t carry a copy of the code with them!
As an example, recently a contractor was informed that the fire official who had reviewed his installation would not approve the location of the smoke detectors in the building’s corridor. The contractor had installed the devices on a 41-foot spacing (center-to-center) instead of the “normal” 30-foot spacing that he would use in a room. The fire official stated that the code required spot-type smoke detectors to be located on a smooth ceiling at a nominal spacing of 30 foot on center. But, the code allows that “the spacing between detectors can be greater than the selected spacing, provided the maximum spacing from a detector to the farthest point of a sidewall or corner within its zone of protection is not greater than 0.7 times the selected spacing (0.7S).” This allowance means, for a 10-foot-wide corridor, the spacing, center-to-center, can be extended to 41 feet.

In this example, the corridor was only 8 feet wide. With a copy of the code in hand, the contractor showed the fire official the code requirements and the associated diagram in the Annex A that permitted the installed spacing for his project. Had he not had a copy of NFPA 72 2010 in his truck, he would have had to argue his point without backup documentation. Or, he would have had to change the spacing and lose valuable profit dollars installing additional, unneeded smoke detectors.

So remember, misinformation can cost you. For the price of a code book in each of your trucks—and the time you invest to read, study and learn the contents—you can save valuable installation time and costs. To parody a popular credit card commercial, “What’s in your truck?”


MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a past chair of the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates, Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office. He can be reached at wmoore@haifire.com.