What Do I Do Now?

By Wayne D. Moore | Jul 11, 2023
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Questions are common on the job. Let's go over some questions often raised by those in the field trying to understand the requirements that affect their fire alarm system installations.

Questions are common on the job. Below are questions often raised by those in the field trying to understand the requirements that affect their fire alarm system installations.

In a public school, some students with Down Syndrome are annoyed by audible signal appliances in the classroom and corridor and often do not respond appropriately. Any suggestions?

Institutions with individuals that have mental or physical disabilities should consider using “private mode” notification. In addition to permitting a lower decibel level for notification appliances, this method is designed to notify staff members only, as opposed to all building occupants. As such, audible devices need be deployed only in those areas where staff is located. Section defines private operating mode as “audible or visible signaling only to those persons directly concerned with the implementation and direction of emergency action initiation and procedure in the area protected by the fire alarm system.”

Another option would be the use of a chime tone for the alarm signal that has less effect on those sensitive to loud audible sounds. Alternatively, the audible devices could be eliminated entirely in accordance with Section, which states, “Where approved by the authority having jurisdiction or other governing codes or standards, the requirements for audible signaling shall be permitted to be reduced or eliminated when visible signaling is provided in accordance with Section 18.5.”

For example, in critical care patient areas, it is often desirable to not have an audible fire alarm even at reduced private mode levels. Each case requires consideration by the governing authority. Another example would be high-noise work areas where an audible signal needed to overcome background noise at one time of day would be excessively loud and potentially dangerous at another time of lower ambient noise. A sudden increase of more than 30 dB over 0.5 seconds is considered to cause sudden and potentially dangerous fright.

Who has the final say on a fire alarm check out?

By “final say,” I assume you mean who has the authority to accept the system as operational or allow the certificate of occupancy to be issued. NFPA 72-2022 describes these entities as the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). The annex material for A.3.2.2, Authority Having Jurisdiction, provides further guidance. AHJ is used in NFPA documents in a broad manner, since jurisdictions, approval agencies and responsibilities vary. Where public safety is primary, the AHJ may be a federal, state, local or other regional department or individual such as a fire chief, health department, building official or others having statutory authority.

For insurance purposes, an insurance inspection department, rating bureau or other insurance company representative may be the AHJ. In many circumstances, the property owner or their designated agent assumes the role of the AHJ. At government installations, the commanding officer or departmental official may fill the role.

Of course, the “final say” might not end with this entity. The owner might also have contractual requirements or insurance requirements that need to be met. These requirements might exceed the code minimum and the expectations of the AHJ, but would not necessarily impede the issuance of the certificate of occupancy.

Is it permissible to reopen an existing fire sealed (former) penetration for a new one? Provided the new penetration is properly sealed with an appropriate UL system for wall or floor, is this allowed? I couldn’t find anything in the International Building Code otherwise.

Yes, you can remove the existing firestop material during the new wiring installation if you replace the firestopping (of the same value) when the wiring is complete in the affected area.

I would like some comments on multisensing initiating devices in one detector. Are these widely accepted?

Multisensing technology in the form of combination heat and smoke detectors has been around for some time. In recent years, several manufacturers have introduced multisensors that incorporate a range of different technologies. The technologies include combinations of photoelectric, ionization, thermal, laser and video technology into a single detector. Using sophisticated software algorithms that analyze multiple fire signatures, these devices are very good at discriminating between genuine fire particles and dust, steam, etc., that might otherwise result in spurious alarms. Because they recognize a range of fire signatures, their response time, on average, is faster than detectors that employ only a single technology. Of course, this level of sophistication comes at increased cost that might preclude their use for ordinary applications.

Why doesn’t the city of Chicago use a battery backup system in a Class 1 application?

I am unfamiliar with the City of Chicago code and cannot speak to what a “Class 1” application is. Obviously, in today’s environment, there are fewer power outages than years ago, but they do happen. In my opinion, there is no reason to eliminate battery standby from any fire alarm system. Often, these local laws are developed by city councils with no fire alarm system or fire protection knowledge, and the only goal is to make the law palatable to all concerned. This goal generally revolves around cost and not good fire protection.

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and Factory Mutual (FM) can choose to interpret NFPA 72 in different ways. Do either of these agencies have to answer to NFPA when constructing standards (UL 864, as an example) or when testing to their own standards?

UL and FM are listing agencies that publish product performance standards and provide product testing services to manufacturers for a range of products, including fire protection equipment. When it comes to fire alarm systems, the relationship these two organizations have with NFPA is typically complementary. For example, the UL 864, Standard for Control Units and Accessories for Fire Alarm Systems, is specifically written around the performance requirements for fire alarm systems defined in NFPA 72, which implicitly recognizes this, by requiring related products to be listed. In some listing categories, compliance with UL or FM might require additional performance criteria beyond those defined in NFPA 72. An example of this is the requirements for battery backup of fire alarm systems interfaced with pre-action/deluge systems where FM would require 90 hours of battery backup.

To understand the relationship testing laboratories like UL and FM have with the NFPA codes and standards, it is helpful to understand the terms “listed” and “labeled” and the requirement of fire protection equipment to conform to the requirements embodied in these terms.

NFPA 72-2022, Section 10.3.1 states, “Equipment constructed and installed in conformity with this Code shall be listed for the purpose for which it is used. Fire alarm system components shall be installed, tested, and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s published instructions and this Code.”

Under the definition for “listed” is 3.2.5: “Equipment, materials, or services included in a list published by an organization that is acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction and concerned with evaluation of products or services, that maintains periodic inspection of production of listed equipment or materials or periodic evaluation of services, and whose listing states that either the equipment, material, or service meets appropriate designated standards or has been tested and found suitable for a specified purpose.”

Annex A adds the following: “The means for identifying listed equipment may vary for each organization concerned with product evaluation; some organizations do not recognize equipment as listed unless it is also labeled. The authority having jurisdiction should utilize the system employed by the listing organization to identify a listed product. Organizations like UL or FM that evaluate products typically require that a label be affixed to the product so an AHJ, or other entity, can confirm its listing status. Section 3.2.4 defines labeled as “Equipment or materials to which has been attached a label, symbol, or other identifying mark of an organization that is acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction and concerned with product evaluation, that maintains periodic inspection of production of labeled equipment or materials, and by who’s labeling the manufacturer indicates compliance with appropriate standards or performance in a specified manner.”

So, neither agency has to answer to NFPA, but both interface with NFPA 72 Technical Committees to ensure that the requirements of the code will correlate with their product standards and vice versa.

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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