Taking the Time to Understand the Code

By Wayne D. Moore | Mar 27, 2024
NFPA 72-2022, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code
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As we rush to design or install a fire alarm system, we find that many times we missed a code requirement and must redo the work, which, of course, negatively affects our bottom line while affecting our reputation as a quality company.

We live in a world that increasing puts pressure on workers to perform work fast so we don’t negatively affect the company’s bottom line. As we rush to design or install a fire alarm system, we find that many times we missed a code requirement and must redo the work, which, of course, negatively affects our bottom line while affecting our reputation as a quality company.

NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, is the code you should be following every time you install a new fire alarm system, upgrade a system or perform maintenance and testing of a fire alarm system. And you know what edition of NFPA 72 to follow because it is referenced in the building code adopted in your city or state.

Knowing that the above is true, why then are you surprised every time an authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), who is responsible for approving your installation, explains why he or she cannot do so because you did not comply with NFPA 72?

And although I have suggested this many times, you do not have a copy of the code on your tablet or in your truck, so you cannot ask the AHJ what part of the code you don’t comply with.

Chapter 1 of the code explains in the scope section that it covers the application, installation, location, performance, inspection, testing and maintenance of fire alarm systems. That statement in and of itself should convince you to own and read a copy.

Among other statements in Chapter 1, Section 1.2 provides the code’s purpose as defining “… the levels of performance; and the reliability of the various types of fire alarm systems …”.

When you decide to read the code, you will find that it defines the features associated with a fire alarm system and provides the information necessary to modify or upgrade an existing system to meet the requirements of a particular system classification.

Additionally, while the code establishes the minimum required levels of performance, extent of redundancy and quality of installation, it does not establish the only methods to meet the prescriptive requirements or how the requirements are to be met.

There may be times when an AHJ will state something as a requirement; however, NFPA 72 Section 1.2.4 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.”

The code provides a classification for each type of fire alarm system that you will install as follows:

“(1) Fire alarm systems

(a) Household fire alarm systems

(b) Protected premises (local) fire alarm systems

(2) Supervising station alarm systems

(a) Central station (service) alarm systems

(b) Remote supervising station alarm systems

(c) Proprietary supervising station alarm systems

(3) Public emergency alarm reporting systems

(a) Auxiliary alarm systems—local energy type

(b) Auxiliary alarm systems—shunt type”

To be fair, in most parts of the country you do not have public reporting systems as shown in number three.

When it comes to the intent and meaning of terms used in NFPA 72, unless otherwise defined in the code itself, the intent and meaning will be as defined in NFPA 70, National Electrical Code.

Many installations you will encounter are existing fire alarm systems, and when called upon to work on these systems, you will often be told to follow the currently adopted edition of the code. However, with few exceptions, the code explicitly states in Section 1.4.1 that “Unless otherwise noted, it is not intended that the provisions of this document be applied to facilities, equipment, structures, or installations that were existing or approved for construction or installation prior to the effective date of the document (i.e. the code).” This means that NFPA 72 only applies to new system installations. One of the exceptions to this statement is where the existing building or fire alarm system involves a distinct hazard to life or property than the current code provisions permit (meaning the AHJ can enforce the requirements of the current code).

I have been asked numerous times to approve equipment a contractor claims is “equivalent” to something contained in my specifications for the fire alarm system to be installed in a particular building. In many, if not most of these cases, the reason for the request is that the contractor did not read the specification and at the project completion, the substitution is discovered.

Luckily, the code has a section on equivalency. Specifically, NFPA 72 states, “Nothing in this code shall prevent the use of systems, methods, devices, or appliances of equivalent or superior quality, strength, fire resistance, effectiveness, durability, and safety over those prescribed by this code.” But this is not a carte blanche acceptance. The code (and most qualified fire protection engineers) require that technical documentation be submitted to the engineer and AHJ to demonstrate equivalency. Then, once everyone—but specifically the AHJ—agrees that the submitted equipment is equivalent, the AHJ must approve the equipment for installation.

Hopefully, you see from this discussion that reading and understanding the code is important, not only to show you are a trusted advisor to your customer, but to avoid costly mistakes. The bottom line is to own and read a copy of the code!

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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