NFPA 72 describes three types of fire alarm testing: acceptance testing for new systems, re-accep-tance testing for modifications to systems and periodic testing for the ongoing testing of existing fire alarm systems. Over the years, I have seen and heard of many ways that acceptance testing is conducted. I recommend that you be proactive and act as the leader for this important test.
Today, it seems that everything is fast-tracked, and there is pressure to get the job done on time. Fire alarm contractors are usually the last to get started because you can’t put a horn on a wall that doesn’t exist. Fire alarm contractors also are the first expected to be done, because a building owner needs to have working fire protection and fire alarm systems before a certificate of occupancy can be issued.
Here are some ideas that may make your life easier and will give you some control over this test.
First of all, be sure you attend all construction meetings so you are aware of current expected timelines. Make sure the general contractor and other trades know what you need to finish on time. Be sure to document these meetings.
Second, it’s helpful to have the fire marshal attend some of these meetings, too. The marshal’s requirements mean a lot more than your requests, and they can be very helpful in this regard. Remember, you need to follow the requirements of the codes, and just because the GC tells you something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that thing is going to happen. For example, on a fast-track job, you are often expected to install smoke detectors prior to the building being cleaned. This is probably the No. 1 cause of unwanted alarms in new fire alarm systems, and trust me, you will be the one blamed when this happens. The fire marshal can help make this point.
As far as the actual acceptance test goes, we all know that representatives from other trades—with equipment that will be connected to the fire alarm system—need to be present during the test. It is important that you act as the coordinator to manage the schedule for other trade representatives and the authority having jurisdiction so everyone is present. You want to have all AHJs there for the parts of the test they need to witness, so you only have to perform the test once. For example, if you have smoke or heat detectors installed for elevator recall or shutdown, you will have to perform that test for the fire inspector and the elevator inspector. Try to get both there at the same time.
There is an added benefit of doing this. They don’t always have the same opinion about elevator fire alarm equipment installation. I have actually had contractors tell me that they have installed smoke detectors in the elevator hoistway for the fire department test and removed them for the elevator inspector test. That is definitely not a good plan. It is obviously better to start working this out well in advance, since you may have to initiate a meeting or two with both of them to work out the differences.
Work out a detailed schedule because not everyone needs to be there for the full test. People are busy, and it will be appreciated. For example, you may show that the fire alarm notification appliances will be tested between 8:00 and 8:30 a.m., elevator fire alarm initiating devices between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m., HVAC duct detectors between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m. and so forth. By doing this in advance, each interested party can plan to be there at the appointed time. This will greatly improve the chances of passing the first time. No one likes to come back for a second acceptance test because the correct person was not there. Follow up with the others a day or two before the test to remind them of the appointed time. It takes some work, but it is well worth it. I have done this many times; with some effort, the acceptance test goes much smoother and is successful more often than not.
I also recommend that you invite the owner’s representative who will be primarily responsible for the fire alarm system. This would typically be the building engineer. By having that individual present, they will become more familiar with how the system operates and where everything is. An added bonus is that they will meet the fire marshal or inspector.
Be sure to have all the necessary tools and equipment necessary to perform the tests and have a copy of NFPA 72 with you. This way if a question arises about how something is installed or tested, you have the codebook right there to prove your point.