Breaking Through the Red Tape

How could maintaining a fire alarm system in a government building possibly be different than a private commercial building? It may not seem obvious, but attempting to maintain a fire alarm system in a government building brings many unique issues into focus.

The first problem may arise during the bid stage. You will generally provide your proposal for fire alarm system testing and maintenance to the operations and maintenance company, usually referred to as the O&M contractor. This company serves as a contract maintenance organization that the government will hire to provide all maintenance and minor repairs to the building. The O&M contractor will generally report to the government General Services Administration (GSA) building manager. The GSA “owns” most of the buildings that house numerous government offices, such as federal courts, federal marshals and the FBI, to name just a few.

The O&M contractor must provide fire alarm systems testing and maintenance. But the needs of each building rarely require the hiring of staff on a 24-hour basis to perform this service. Thus, the O&M contractor will issue a request for proposal (RFP) on what really becomes a subcontract basis. When the O&M contractor issues an RFP, it will state something like the following: “Fire Alarm System Preventative Maintenance and Repair Services include, but are not limited to, the performance inspection, testing and preventive maintenance, or repair of a variety of fire alarm and notification systems, equipment and components, such as manual alarm devices, smoke and heat detectors, tamper switches, pressure switches, waterflow switches, remote and graphic annunciators, main fire alarm panel and components, voice alarm system, speakers and horns, and other audible and visual devices, wiring circuits and junctions, all other alarm, detection and control and ancillary devices, and emergency power operations.”

That RFP seems to represent pretty standard fare. So, you might be lured into submitting a standard bid for your fire alarm testing and maintenance services. However, you need to know that the O&M contractor will rely on “Facilities Maintenance and Management, 6FEC-E6-030292-B, Document 15.” This document has numerous, very specific requirements. You will find that the provisions contained within it inevitably increase your costs. If your bid price does not reflect those additional costs, you will lose money throughout the life of your contract.

For example, the government requires that you use responsible, capable, National Institute for the Certification of Engineering Technicians (NICET) certified employees in the performance of any task associated with fire alarm system testing and maintenance. In fact, all personnel you use to service a government facility must possess a current NICET Level II or greater certification. Further, the O&M contractor may also ask you to remove those who pose a threat to the health, safety or security of a facility.

Additionally, the technician must have experience during the past five years in fire alarm system testing, repair, maintenance, installation, and related activities of buildings and equipment comparable to the buildings and equipment on which you intend to submit a bid. With addressable fire alarm systems, the GSA requires that technicians modifying the fire alarm system control panel must have received factory training and currently hold certification for the operating system, including the software version for the particular fire alarm system. You must provide documentation of this certification to the GSA building manager and to the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).

In older government buildings, you will often find asbestos-containing materials (ACM) in sprayed-on fireproofing on ceiling slabs and support beams; in insulation on pipes, valves and boilers; and within wall materials. Because fire alarm system maintenance and repair may affect ACM, you must follow specific procedures during your work. If you disturb materials that you suspect contain ACM, you must immediately report it to the O&M contractor or directly to the GSA manager. He or she will investigate and instruct you how to avoid an airborne asbestos exposure.

Lead-based paint also may play a role. If you must disturb materials that you suspect may contain lead-based paint, you must immediately report it to the O&M contractor or directly to the GSA manager. He or she will investigate and instruct you how to avoid lead-based paint contamination.
Obviously, either issue will affect the time you planned for your work and, thus, will impact your bid pricing.

Another matter may seriously affect your bid pricing on a testing and maintenance contract for government agencies. The GSA requires that anywhere NFPA 72 uses the word “should,” you must act as if the wording was “shall.” You must also use the “Testing Frequencies” and the “Testing Methods” from NFPA 72 2007, Chapter 10. Therefore, all fire alarm system, inspections, tests, maintenance, alterations, and repairs performed under such a contract as the one you have submitted shall comply with NFPA 72 2007, the National Fire Alarm Code, including all annex chapters.

You also must ensure that you maintain the fire alarm system in an operable condition at all times, except while you test or repair the system. It is essential that you carefully schedule all nonemergency shutdowns of the fire alarm system with the building manager. And, you must provide backup protection any time the fire alarm system is out of service for more than four hours. In addition, regardless of the duration of the shutdown, you must test the affected portion of the system to ensure you have properly restored the protection.

Within 14 days after completing the inspection and testing, you must furnish a written record to the building manager and AHJ that includes the following:
• “Contractor’s Inspection and Testing Form” (using the form from the NFPA 72 2007) with all of the information required by NFPA 72 2007
• Date of manufacture of fire alarm system(s) and whether parts are readily available
• A list of any problems noted with the system, including inoperable or unsupervised devices or equipment, or devices that you cannot calibrate, test or service in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations
• Findings noted must include individual costs to correct/repair them.
• You must break down each cost into both a parts cost and a labor cost.

In general, you should expect to conduct the testing of the systems, especially the audible and visual appliances, after normal business hours. You must coordinate with the building manager to decide when you may perform testing, maintenance and repair. The GSA allows you to perform this during normal business hours when it does not interfere with building operations. When it will interfere, you must perform your work after normal business hours.

Of course, you must repair any damage to the fire alarm system or associated equipment (e.g., fans, elevators, generators, pumps) caused by normal testing at no additional cost to the government. At its discretion, the government may have representatives present to witness any or all such tests.

Finally, at various times during your contract, the government will require you to repair the fire alarm system. The government separates the categories of repairs into critical and noncritical repairs. The building manager and AHJ will determine your initial response to repair calls based on whether they deem the nature of the repair critical or noncritical.

Critical repairs affect the continued occupancy of a building or certain critical operations in a building. Requirements for critical repairs include making live voice contact with the building manager and AHJ within one hour after you receive notification of the need for a critical repair. You must have a qualified technician on-site within four hours. And, you must complete the repair within 16 hours.

If you cannot complete a critical repair of the fire alarm system within 16 hours, you must notify the contracting officer with a proposal for completing the work, including a not-to-exceed cost and the time required. The contracting officer may approve the proposal verbally; you may not proceed with the work until you obtain such approval. The contracting officer will normally follow a verbal approval with a written work order.

After you receive notification of the need for noncritical repairs, you must make live voice contact with the building manager and AHJ within two hours. You must have a qualified technician on-site within 8 hours. And, you must complete the repair within 48 hours. If you cannot complete a noncritical repair of the fire alarm system within 48 hours, you must notify the contracting officer and follow the same requirements for approval to proceed as you did for critical repairs.

You certainly can make a profit by providing testing and maintenance for a government building if you understand all of the specific requirements. Please note that this article does not describe all of the requirements. I encourage you to visit for the complete list of requirements.

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a past chair of the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office. He can be reached at

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist
Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. Moore is a vice president with JENSEN HUGHES at the Warwick, R.I., office. He c...

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