Opportunity or Trap

By Wayne D. Moore | Jul 15, 2009
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Contractors often field calls from prospective customers regarding the installation of a fire alarm system. The customer has made the decision to protect his building and wants advice on how best to accomplish this goal. This request meets the classic definition in NFPA 72-2007 of nonrequired: “A fire alarm system component or group of components that is installed at the option of the owner, and is not installed due to a building or fire code requirement.”

Unfortunately, if you focus on the “not installed due to a building or fire code requirement” part of the definition, you may fall into the trap of ignoring the codes altogether. I compare this to elective surgery. Would you expect everyone in the operating room to follow standard surgical procedures, even though you have voluntarily chosen to have the surgery? Of course you would!

The National Fire Alarm Code has additional information behind the definition of nonrequired and states in part in the annex: “It is the intent of the Code that any fire alarm system, or fire alarm system components installed voluntarily by a building owner, meets the requirements of the applicable portions of the Code. However, it is not the intent of the Code that the installation of a non-required fire alarm system, or fire alarm system components, triggers requirements for the installation of additional fire alarm system components or features. For example, the installation of a fire alarm control unit and fire detectors to service a specific area, such as a computer room or flammable liquid storage room, does not trigger a requirement for audible or visible notification appliances, manual fire alarm boxes, or other fire alarm system features in other parts of the building.”

As you can see from this annex material, the code presumes that the owner knows what he wants to protect. The code also presumes that the owner has sought appropriate assistance to determine how to deploy that specific protection. You will seldom find an owner sophisticated enough to make such decisions without knowledgeable assistance.

And you probably need to know that the word “nonrequired” does not give you a license to travel carefree through the wild fields of imagination as you design the system. The International Building Code-2006, Section 901.2 states: “Fire protection systems shall be installed, repaired, operated and maintained in accordance with this code and the International Fire Code. Any fire protection system for which an exception or reduction to the provisions of this code has been granted shall be considered to be a required system. Ex-ception: Any fire protection system or portion thereof not required by this code shall be permitted to be installed for partial or com-plete protection provided that such system meets the requirements of this code.” In addition, Section 907.2, the International Build-ing Code references the requirements of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code.

You are the one who must ensure the typically unsophisticated owner obtains a fire alarm system that truly meets his needs and complies with the code. Be careful to avoid the temptation to only sell the owner a system for which you think he will pay. You al-ways should propose a code-compliant fire alarm system with the sufficient amount of detection, notification and fire safety features to appropriately protect the occupants and the building.

Fortunately, NFPA 72-2007, the National Fire Alarm Code, gives some leeway with regard to nonrequired detection coverage, stating in Section that “Detection installed for reasons of achieving specific fire safety objectives, but not required by any laws, codes, or standards, shall meet all of the requirements of this Code, with the exception of prescriptive spacing criteria […] .” The next section also states that when the goal becomes achieving specific detection coverage, no additional detectors shall be required to be installed.

An example of applying this code requirement occurs when a facility owner would want to deploy detection to meet certain per-formance goals and to address a particular hazard or need when no other code or authority requires that detection. Of course, as you have already read, you still have to follow virtually all of the requirements of the code. And, once installed, you will have to perform acceptance testing, annual testing and ongoing maintenance in accordance with the code.

You still must install all wiring and fire alarm equipment as required by the code. You still must perform a 100-percent acceptance test. You still must complete the “Fire Alarm System Record of Completion.” You still must document the system installation by devel-oping record drawings (as-built drawings).

The National Electrical Code and the National Fire Alarm Code and the applicable building code still serve as the required documents you must follow for any fire alarm system installation. Just do your job: determine the owner’s fire protection goals and provide him with the assurance that you will install his nonrequired fire alarm system in a code-compliant fashion. Do this and you will build the reputation of your firm, enhance your business outlook, and enjoy appropriate profitability.

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.

About The Author

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, was a principal member and chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24, NFPA 909 and NFPA 914. He is president of the Fire Protection Alliance in Jamestown, R.I. Reach him at [email protected]


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