Pass With Flying Colors

Shutterstock/ Electrical Engineer
Shutterstock/ Electrical Engineer
Published On
Nov 15, 2019

In my September article, I wrote about ways to improve chances of passing the fire alarm acceptance test the first time. It takes some effort on the part of the fire alarm contractor, but it can be done. This will improve job profitability and also benefit a contractor’s reputation. Performing acceptance testing properly will potentially reduce liability.

Table in NFPA 72 provides both test frequencies and test methods. Many of the test methods listed tell contractors to test in accordance with the manufacturer’s published instructions.

Why is this so important? For one, the written testing instructions are part of the listing requirements. If contractors test fire alarm equipment in ways that differ from the manufacturer’s recommendations, it becomes possible for lawyers to blame the EC. It is also important that customers receive a fire alarm system that is going to work properly when needed.

It is necessary for every single device to be tested, even if the authority having jurisdiction does not witness the testing. The fire alarm contractor is the one who must sign the Record of Completion stating that the systems have been installed properly and the equipment has been tested and performs correctly.

Let’s start with testing manual fire alarm boxes. I have seen many cases where testing personnel will test this these “pull stations” by opening the case and operating the switch inside because it is a quick way. However, the manufacturer says they are to be tested as they would be used in case of emergency. I also remember that the other trades really enjoyed pulling these stations when they were leaving the job site for the day. I would have to stay late to reset the system and the pull stations. In cases of pull stations with glass rods, I would remove the glass rod and insert a nail so they would not operate. If contractors don’t test them as they would be used in the case of an emergency, then the nail would not be found and removed.

When testing heat detectors, many people use a hair dryer or a heat gun. That is more than likely acceptable, but contractors need to verify this is acceptable to the manufacturer. When testing smoke detectors, NFPA 72, Table, item 17(7)(a) states, “Test smoke detectors in place to ensure smoke entry into the sensing chamber and an alarm response. Use smoke or a listed and labeled product acceptable to the manufacturer or in accordance with their published instructions. Other methods listed in the manufacturer’s published instructions that ensure smoke entry from the protected area, through the vents, into the sensing chamber can be used.”

Electrical contractors cannot use magnets or certain brands of “canned smoke” that the manufacturer does not permit.

Sensitivity testing of smoke detectors is probably the most important test for those devices. Thankfully, with addressable systems, the system will inherently test the sensitivity when the smoke detectors are pulled. When testing nonaddressable fire alarm systems, it is important to use a sensitivity tester acceptable to the manufacturer. If contractors don’t perform this test, how would they know if it is working within its listed sensitivity range? If not, it may not work properly during a fire.

If ECs are testing duct smoke detectors, they must perform the above smoke entry test and verify the proper airflow from the duct through the sampling tubes into the duct detector housing. Testing with a remote test switch does not meet the testing requirements of NFPA 72. Remember that some manufacturers say that contractors can test with a magnet or a remote test switch, but this is basically only testing the circuit to verify the device will activate the system if it operates. It is often called a functional test. NFPA 72 requires a smoke entry test.

About the Author
Tom Hammerberg

Thomas P. Hammerberg

Life Safety Columnist

Thomas P. Hammerberg, SET, CFPS is an independent fire alarm presenter and consultant in The Villages, Fla. He can be reached at

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.