Who's in Charge

In today's new construction market, almost every fire alarm system has other safety systems integrated into its operation.

As stated in the 2007 edition of the National Fire Alarm Code, “Protected premises fire alarm systems that serve the general fire alarm needs of a building or buildings shall include one or more of the following systems or functions:

(1) Manual alarm signal initiation

(2) Automatic alarm signal initiation

(3) Monitoring of abnormal conditions in fire suppression systems

(4) Activation of fire suppression systems

(5) Activation of fire safety functions

(6) Activation of alarm notification appliances

(7) Emergency voice/alarm communications

(8) Guard’s tour supervisory service

(9) Process monitoring supervisory systems

(10) Activation of off-premises signals

(11) Combination systems

(12) Integrated systems”

Each of these items represents a system or function that helps ensure the building and its occupants are safe from fire. Newer systems, such as mass notification systems, are integrated into fire alarm systems to make building occupants aware of other emergency issues, such as weather alerts or terrorism threats. NFPA 72 also contains requirements that can impact the application of mass notification systems. It is essential to coordinate the functions of a mass notification system with those of a fire alarm system in order to provide effective communication in an emergency situation.

In any event, the fire alarm system will be integrated into or will monitor one or more other safety systems.

For instance, a new type of system has been identified in the 2007 edition of NFPA 72 called “Dedicated Function Fire Alarm Systems.” The code defines this type of system as a “protected premises fire alarm system installed specifically to perform fire safety function(s) where a building fire alarm system is not required.”

Section of the code states, “In facilities without a building fire alarm system, a dedicated function

fire alarm system shall be permitted and shall not be required to include other functions or features of a building fire alarm system.” But the next section requires integration, stating, “Where a dedicated function fire alarm system exists and a building fire alarm system is subsequently installed, the systems shall be interconnected.”

NFPA 72-2007 also addresses all installations interconnecting two or more listed control units, possibly from different manufacturers that together fulfill the requirements of meeting the code. The code advises, “Such an arrangement should preserve the reliability, adequacy, and integrity of all alarm, supervisory, and trouble signals and interconnecting circuits intended to be in accordance with the provisions of this code.”

It further advises that “where interconnected control units are in separate buildings, consideration should be given to protecting the interconnecting wiring from electrical and radio frequency interference.”

While integrating fire alarm control units is important, it is only part of the systems integration challenge in a building. The fire alarm system is essentially the only system that will be reviewed and accepted by an authority having jurisdiction, generally the fire official, who most often will be reviewing the stated operation of the entire fire alarm system. This includes the integrated and monitored safety systems.

Most electrical contractors are unaware that, although their installed fire alarm system is operational, it may not be accepted, and neither will an occupancy permit be given until all integrated systems work in concert with it.

This means that prior to a fire alarm system acceptance test, the elevator recall, HVAC control, damper control, door-unlocking systems and door-release systems must perform as specified based on the fire alarm system operation. The fire official will want to ensure that some form of listed barrier gateway, integral with or attached to each control unit or group of control units, is provided to prevent the other nonfire alarm systems from interfering with or controlling the fire alarm system.

This means that someone must take charge of coordinating the integration of these other systems with the fire alarm.

The EC who usually has at least an electrical interface responsibility with the other electrical systems being installed is the obvious choice to be in charge of the on-site systems integration.

Of course the designer of the integrated systems is not exempt from his or her responsibility. Once the system operation has been developed by the designer, the EC should take the responsibility of ensuring systems monitored and controlled by the fire alarm system are integrated properly during the installation process.

Although some contractors will balk at this (they don’t pay me enough!), if the system integration does not work at the time of acceptance tests, the electrical contractor will spend many hours retesting the system until the fire official is satisfied. To avoid this aggravation, take charge!

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a co-editor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office.



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