We all know the importance of testing fire alarm systems, so this is a good time to review some recent changes in the NFPA 72 testing requirements and discuss some best practices.
While teaching seminars, I always used to say that testing was the same regardless of whether it was during the acceptance test when the system was new or during the periodic testing. That is no longer the case. I’ve written about this before, but with different purposes for each type of fire alarm test, it is good to review them.
There are a number of reasons why you need to test fire alarm systems correctly. Obviously, we need to ensure the equipment is working properly, since this is important for life safety. It is also necessary to test the systems correctly, and document the results, in case you have to defend yourself in a deposition or trial.
It is also necessary to educate your clients about the importance of testing. Too many owners neglect the fire alarm system because they don’t think a fire will happen. Explain that insurance companies don’t just pay claims on demand. They will always try to find a way to get someone else to pay for damages. Trust me when I say that, if you have a fire, the insurance company will investigate. If there are no testing records, the owner assumes a share of the liability and the insurance company will not pay everything the owner thinks they are owed.
Acceptance versus periodic
If you look at “Purpose” in 14.2.1 of the 2019 edition of NFPA 72, you will see that the purpose for the acceptance test is different than it is for the periodic test. At this stage, you need to verify the system meets code and the design requirements. There are things that must be verified at acceptance, but not during a periodic test.
Also remember that NFPA 72 provides only minimum requirements, which may not always be enough. For example, during an acceptance test, you must verify that fire alarm horn tones are synchronized for each notification zone, typically a floor. You also must verify that the sound level meets or exceeds the design sound level required for all new systems.
However, you no longer need to test the sound levels every year. Personally, I would still do it anyway, as often as I could. If your client has a fire, and there was any concern about hearing the fire alarm, I would much prefer to be able to produce documents showing the system had been tested and had all the sound levels recorded.
I would not want to have to rely on saying that NFPA 72 does not require that anymore, when defending myself or my client. Explain that to your client, and I believe a number of them would want you to still do that test. Some won’t want to spend the money, but, in my past experience, if the client understands the situation, they will allow it. It is not just an excuse to charge more, but it is to protect them better. Most understand that concept.
It is also very important to test smoke detectors per the manufacturer’s instructions. Not all manufacturers allow all canned smoke to be used on their detectors. Every little detail like that becomes a very big deal when lawsuits are involved.
I also recommend that you have your crew review the test methods in Table 126.96.36.199 for each item to see if the correct test methods have not changed and the team is still testing things correctly.
Obviously, documenting every test and inspection is extremely important. NFPA 72 states that you do not need to use the exact form in Chapter 7, as long as you have all the pertinent information for the system and the test performed.
I also think it is valuable to have the owner’s representative responsible for the fire alarm system assist with the testing or at least witness the test. This is a great opportunity for them to see how it works and where everything is located. The more the owner’s representative understands the system, the more comfortable they will be with it. The more comfortable they are, the better they will take care of it. It is also an excellent way to find out their concerns about system-related issues such as unwanted alarms.