What Is Provided When Required: Minimum required documentation for fire alarm systems

Shutterstock / Revector
Shutterstock / Revector
Published On
May 14, 2021

In the 2018 edition of the International Building Code, the documentation information in paragraph 907.1.2 on fire alarm shop drawings was deleted. A statement was added telling users to prepare the shop drawings per NFPA 72 and submit them for review and approval prior to system installation. This was done so there would not be two similar lists of required documentation developed by two code organizations. The section in NFPA 72 is 7.2, Minimum Required Documentation.

Let’s review this section to gain a better understanding of the intent. Keep in mind that these 17 items cover documentation over the life of the system. Some are meant for the permit application and plan review process, some are intended for system design and some for testing and inspections. Also note that it says to use this list where documentation is required by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). So, paragraph 7.2 is not a requirement, but it is a description of what needs to be provided when required.

Item 1 is to provide a “written narrative providing intent and system description.” This is intended for the building permit process to provide adequate information to show the building will be provided with a system that meets the applicable code. It will be very general because documentation starts getting specific with the shop drawing and fire alarm permit application process.

Items 2 and 3 provide for a riser drawing and floor plan. A riser is a useful drawing to show what is connected to the fire alarm panel by circuit. The floor plan indicates the locations of fire alarm devices and appliances. It also provides information such as room use and building features. This is useful for the plan reviewer to ensure the system will meet code and for the installation company to know where to install the equipment.

Item 4 requires a sequence of operation for the system in either an input/output matrix or narrative form. The larger the facility and the more complex the system and interconnections with other building equipment, the more important this sequence of operation becomes. It is essential for the system programmer, the system testing personnel, the AHJ witnessing the acceptance testing and, in my opinion, for responding personnel.

Items 5 and 6 require providing manufacturer’s information. These are useful to show listing information and current draw for the equipment, which will be needed for the battery and voltage drop calculations in items 7 and 8. Battery calculations are needed to determine if the battery will provide adequate secondary power, 24 hours plus 5 minutes of alarm time, to meet the requirements of NFPA 72. Voltage drop calculations are only required for notification appliance circuits. This provides a means to ensure all notification appliances will operate when needed under primary and secondary power conditions. It helps determine notification appliance circuit loads and adequate conduction size.

Item 9 says to provide mounting height elevations for wall-mounted devices and appliances. This could be provided on the floor plan drawings.

Item 10 requires the system designer to provide design sound pressure levels. I am proud to say that I proposed this item based on input I heard for many years from AHJs and seminar attendees. This is a design responsibility and should not be left to the installer to determine. It is also a good way to provide information to the plan reviewer to have a way to determine how loud the system will be. Based on input from AHJs and previous attendees, it is rare that the sound level is even discussed until the final acceptance test. In my opinion, that is too late.

Part of the problem is that the audibility levels required in NFPA 72 are unenforceable. It states that the sound level must be a least 15 dBA (A-weighted decibels) over the average ambient sound level when the building is occupied. For one, when the final acceptance test is being conducted, the building is empty. Once it is occupied, the sound levels will not be the same due to the type of materials in the building. So, having this information ahead of time makes it more likely to be heard in an occupied building when needed.

Item 11 requires showing the location of notification appliances and candela rating for the strobe lights. These would also be part of the floor plan drawings.

Item 12 requires pathway diagrams between the control panel and shared communication equipment in the building. This shows it meets the requirements of Chapter 26, Supervising Station Alarm Systems.

Items 13–17 all have to do with documentation for inspection and testing, as-built drawings and site-specific software requirements.

I hope this helps provide a better understanding of the documentation requirements described in NFPA 72, Chapter 7.

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 TomHammerberg@gmail.com.

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