Covering It All

In previous columns, we discussed the two major changes to NFPA 72 2010, the new emergency communications systems chapter and the new circuits and pathways chapter. There are quite a few other changes that are worth discussing.

First, the title change to “National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code” reflects the updated scope of the document, which now incorporates the requirements for mass notification systems.

Of the 29 chapters (up from 11), 14 are reserved for future use. The intent is to split the existing chapters into smaller ones and add new chapters, similar to the National Electrical Code (NEC), where each article addresses a separate issue. In the future, it will be much easier to find information. The reserved chapters will be used to subdivide the existing chapters and to add new information relevant to fire alarm and emergency communications systems. For example, expect to see one of the reserved chapters being used strictly for documentation requirements.

Also, the chapters are separated into three areas. Chapters 1–9 are the administrative chapters, and currently only Chapters 1–3 are used. Chapters 10–19 are the support chapters, which include fundamentals, inspection, testing and maintenance, initiating devices, notification appliances and the new chapter on circuits and pathways. The systems chapters include protected premises, emergency control functions and interfaces, the new emergency communications systems, supervising stations, public emergency reporting systems and the household chapters. The annexes have been expanded to include a System Performance Design Guide and a Speech Intelligibility Guide. There is plenty to read when you can’t sleep.

In Fundamentals, Chapter 10, the significant changes include relocating the service personnel qualifications from the inspection, testing and maintenance chapter and adding qualifications for supervising station operators. A new requirement to add a 20 percent safety margin to battery calculations was added to provide a code reference for installers and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ). A significant change was made to signal priority. In the past, fire alarm signals always had the highest priority. Now, in some cases, based on a risk analysis, mass notification systems can take priority over fire alarm signals. The sprinkler exception that allowed the smoke detector used to protect the fire alarm control unit was removed. There are many sprinkler trade-offs in the codes today. This one was not a good application. The Record of Completion was expanded to 12 pages to include the installation and testing of mass notification systems.
In Chapter 14, Inspection, Testing & Maintenance, a new requirement was added for commissioning and testing fire department radio systems if they are used as a substitute for firefighter phones. This is intended to ensure these radio systems will work in a building when required. A new allowance for performance--based testing was introduced, provided it is approved by the AHJ, and the Inspection and Testing Form was also expanded to 12 pages.
Chapter 17 is the new chapter number for initiating devices. One change is that “Initiating devices shall be installed in all areas, compartments, or locations where required by other NFPA codes and standards or as required by other governing laws, codes, or standards.” This text replaces the words “the AHJ,” which should cut down on misinterpretations about what fire alarm equipment is to be installed on a particular job.

Throughout the code, changes were made for consistency of the measurement units. A helpful one is the addition of a tolerance for smoke detector spacing. It now says that smoke detectors are installed at a “nominal 30 ft. spacing.” This allows a 5 percent tolerance, so smoke detectors can be installed between 28.5 feet and 31.5 feet. This should be a great help to installers, since many times, AHJ’s have made installers move a smoke detector that was slightly more than 30 feet.

The language for protecting smoke detectors during construction was changed to allow any method of protection acceptable to the smoke detector manufacturer. This could now allow the use of the “dust covers” to protect smoke detectors, which were not allowed before. This edition also removed the requirement to install smoke or heat detectors a minimum of 4 inches down from the ceiling. Now detectors can be installed anywhere within 12 inches of the ceiling.

The next column will discuss the significant changes to the other chapters not covered so far. There are a number of jurisdictions that have either already adopted or are in the process of adopting the 2010 edition of NFPA 72, so get familiar with the requirements.

HAMMERBERG is currently the president/executive director of the Automatic Fire Alarm Association Inc. headquartered in Jasper, Ga. He serves on a number of NFPA committees, including the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee and the Protected Premises Technical Committee. He can be reached at

About the Author

Thomas P. Hammerberg

Life Safety Columnist
Thomas P. Hammerberg, SET, CFPS is president of Hammerberg & Associates Inc. He serves as Director of Industry Relations for the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (AFAA) Inc. and represents the association on a number of NFPA committees, including the...

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