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Getting the Right Paperwork Done Right

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Published On
Jul 29, 2021

In their quest to simplify the required paperwork for a fire alarm system installation, the Chapter 7 technical committee for documentation for the 2019 edition of the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code appears to have confused some of the code’s users. NFPA 72-2019 Chapter 7 contains all the documentation requirements for a fire alarm system installation. It states in the first two paragraphs that the documentation required by other chapters of the code must comply with the minimum requirements of Chapter 7 for new and existing fire alarm system installations and alterations.

The minimum requirements section begins with “Where documentation is required by the authority having jurisdiction” (AHJ). Many contractors assume that if the AHJ doesn’t bring this section up in their initial conversations about the installation that this section won’t apply. This is a bad assumption, because the AHJ assumes you know that all systems require documentation. So, your first assumption should be that documentation, as spelled out in the “minimum requirements” section, does apply, and plan accordingly.

The first item required is to provide a written narrative “providing intent and system description.” That sounds pretty straightforward, and an asterisk is attached to the requirement, meaning there is additional information to be found in Annex A. Annex A is in the code to allow the technical committee the opportunity to better describe what they meant by a requirement in the body of the code.

So, we turn to Annex A7.2.1 (1) and we find a paragraph stating what the technical committee felt was important to advise the code user what could be used for the narrative.

In part it states, “The purpose for a written narrative is to provide a description of the work to be performed and could be as simple as ‘Install additional three smoke detectors to provide coverage for newly installed meeting room.’ However, it could be desirable to include why or by whose direction the work is being done.”

The end of this paragraph refers the user to “See also Section 23.3 for additional system feature documentation requirements.” Referring to Section 23.3, we find sections for system purpose, software, type of systems and required features.

After the narrative requirement in item 1, the balance of the minimum documentation required for new systems and additions or alterations to existing systems is clear and detailed. They include the following:

(2) Riser diagram

(3) Floor plan layout showing locations of all devices, control equipment, and supervising station and shared communications equipment with each sheet showing the following: (a) point of compass (north arrow), (b) a graphic representation of the scale used, (c) Room use identification and (d) building features that will affect the placement of initiating devices and notification appliances

(4) Sequence of operation in either an input/output matrix or narrative form

(5) Equipment technical data sheets

(6) Manufacturers’ published instructions, including operation and maintenance instructions

(7) Battery capacity and safety margin calculations (where batteries are provided)

(8) Voltage drop calculations for notification appliance circuits

(9) Mounting height elevation for wall-mounted devices and appliances

(10) Where occupant notification is required, minimum sound pressure levels that must be produced by the audible notification appliances in applicable covered areas

(11) Locations of alarm notification appliances, including candela ratings for visual alarm notification appliances

(12)* Pathway diagrams between the control unit and shared communications equipment within the protected premises

(13) Completed record of completion in accordance with 7.5.6 and 7.8.2

(14) For software-based systems, a copy of site-specific software, including specific instructions on how to obtain the means of system and software access (password)

(15) Record (as-built) drawings

(16) Records, record retention and record maintenance in accordance with Section 7.7

(17) Completed record of inspection and testing in accordance with 7.6.6 and 7.8.2

If you compared this list with previous editions of the code, you would notice several changes added or made to the 2019 edition. Item 7 has included the new requirement for a safety margin to be included in all battery calculations. Item 11 has added that individual strobe candela ratings are to be included on the design drawings and the installation drawings.

You also probably noticed the asterisk next to item 12. As discussed previously, that means there is additional Annex A material to assist the code user to understand the technical committee’s intent.

A.7.2.1(12) contains more information regarding Section 26.6.2.4 that allows three communications pathway options when a supervising station fire alarm system is provided. These are: (1) performance-based technologies, (2) digital alarm communicator systems and (3) radio systems, which includes one-way private and two-way RF systems.

Chapter 26 includes several requirements specific to each of these communications’ pathway alternatives. The Annex information explains that in order to verify the provided communication path(s) and any shared equipment, as well as comply with code requirements, there are a number of options. When any of the options are used, the contractor must ensure that the information submitted provides the minimum documentation required for the option selected for a supervising station fire alarm system. I recommend you become familiar with the information in the Chapter 7 requirements as outlined above and all related requirements in the rest of the code.

One last area of potential confusion is related to item 4 above. The requirement is repeated in Section 7.4.9*: “A narrative description or input/output matrix of operation shall be provided to describe the sequence of operation.”

Again, the asterisk brings us to Annex A for more information, and A.7.4.9 sends you to A.14.6.2.4 for an example of an input/output matrix of operation. I believe the requirement for a narrative is self-explanatory. The option for an input/output matrix is a “picture” of how the system should operate and is often more useful to the fire alarm control unit programmer than a narrative. I strongly recommend you pick up your copy of the code and review the input/output example shown in Figure A.14.6.2.4, which provides an example of a typical input/output matrix.

Taking care of the paperwork required may not be as interesting as designing and installing a fire alarm system, but the wise professional knows it is necessary and the right thing to do.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker, writer and expert in the life safety field, has been a principal member and chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24, as well as a former principal member of NFPA 909 and NFPA 914. He is the...

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