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System Impairments and Deficiencies: Change the way you think about fire alarm system ITM

By Wayne D. Moore | Feb 15, 2023
Illustration of head with wrench tightening a bolt in the brain
You may be a forward-thinking contractor who has established a dedicated fire detection and alarm division. 

You may be a forward-thinking contractor who has established a dedicated fire detection and alarm division. If so, you most likely have developed an inspection, testing and maintenance (ITM) book of business. If not, now would be a great time to develop a program for current customers and sell contracts to new customers.

In the 2022 edition of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, Chapter 14 focuses on ITM. This is the only chapter that is retroactive for all installed fire alarm systems, so the current edition is necessary no matter when the systems were installed. Section 14.1.4 is very specific, stating, “The requirements of this chapter shall apply to both new and existing systems.”

Steps for effective ITM

Section 14.2.3 describes who is required to ensure ITM is performed. It lies squarely on the owner or their designated representative. If you have the service contract, you are the designated representative. The owner is responsible as indicated in Section 14.2.3.1 for ITM “of the system and for alterations or additions to this system.”

In addition to having these contracts as a book of business, when the owner decides to upgrade or replace the system, you can be first in line to bid on the work, generally without competition. 

ITM requires periodic inspection. Depending on the system size, that can be quarterly or semiannually. It is helpful to have software to manage ITM scheduling. Periodic inspections ensure no damage has occurred since the last test or that no building construction or environmental conditions have occurred that will affect its expected operation. 

Keep in mind that, while periodic inspections only assure correct system operation on the day of the test, the purpose is to minimize the potential time a system, function or device might be out of service before the discovery of a problem.

To successfully perform ITM, ensure there is a complete audit of the fire alarm system equipment to help plan the time needed for each periodic test and proper scheduling.

Chapter 14 contains all of the code’s required testing methods and frequencies. Technicians should always have a copy.

One major issue found while investigating a fire alarm system failure is a lack of contractor follow-through when a system impairment or deficiency—such as a defective or missing device or appliance—is found during a test but is not immediately resolved. Section 14.2.2.2 covers system impairments, defined in the code as “an abnormal condition, either planned or as part of an emergency event, where a system, component, or function is inoperable” (e.g., inoperative smoke detectors in a portion of or throughout a building).

Impairments and notifications

Chapter 14 references Section 10.21 and is required to be followed. Several actions must take place when a system is impaired, including notifying the owner or their designated representative and the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) if the system has been out of service for more than 8 hours. An AHJ may require mitigating measures while the system is impaired, including requiring a fire watch or, in extreme situations, the evacuation of the building.

Additionally, when a deficiency is discovered, for example a missing smoke detector or damaged notification appliance, the code requires it be corrected at the conclusion of a test. Section 14.2.2.3.2 states, “If a deficiency is not corrected at the conclusion of system inspection, testing, or maintenance, the system owner or the owner’s designated representative shall be informed of the deficiency in writing within 24 hours.” 

Deficiencies and impairments are two of the most important items to be found during a periodic test and must be acted on as soon as possible to maintain operational readiness of the fire alarm system.

Proper testing

It is common for other systems to be interfaced with the fire alarm or signaling system in a building. While the fire alarm system may monitor or even control some of these other systems, the NFPA 72 requirements only apply to the fire alarm system. The other systems are covered by other codes and standards. To ensure the two systems operate as designed, coordinate with the other system contractor so they can test their system at the same time. Otherwise, ensure the owner knows the limitations of your testing and advise them to have the other life safety systems tested by the appropriate technicians.

ITM can be a strong source of revenue and a source for system upgrades and new installations if conducted properly. Adding this to your book of business will increase the value of your fire alarm division.

shutterstock / TrifonenkoIvan

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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