Studying for the Test

Sometimes I wonder if contractors read NFPA 72 2010, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, when they decide to begin installing a fire alarm system. Of course, it should not be considered optional. To install a reliable fire alarm system, make a profit and avoid excess liability, it is necessary to read the code. A good dose of experience and common sense doesn’t hurt either.

The following real-life story is an example of what happens when a contractor does not understand the code requirements. It may also stretch your idea of common sense.

A contractor has begun work in an existing two-story building where only first-floor tenant improvements will occur. He intends to replace the fire alarm control unit with a new addressable fire alarm control unit, and, based on the tenant improvements, he plans to replace more than half of the 30 detection devices, two-door hold-open appliances, and all of the notification appliances on the first floor.

When questioned by the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) about his testing plan, the contractor outlines the first-floor intentions. It calls for testing 10 percent of the devices connected to the new control panel. He informs the fire inspector that he does not have to test anything on the second floor because the devices and appliances are part of the existing system. He insists that he does not need to test the second-floor devices and appliances because he would not be performing work on that floor.

As you analyze this background information, you should note that, since the contractor intends to use a new addressable fire alarm control panel, the panel will require programming to operate correctly. As a result, the contractor will have to reprogram the system’s entire operation and all devices and appliances, including those on the second floor, into the new fire alarm control unit.

So what does the code require the contractor to test? The code provides specifics in some areas and implies certain testing in other sections. The contractor has to comply with the sections highlighted below. Unfortunately, room does exist for confusion. Section (1) requires the contractor to determine which functions the change may have affected and then test 100 percent of those functions.

I would hope the contractor knows that he must test the new panel in accordance with the test methods outlined in Table and that he must test all new devices and appliances, plus 10 percent of the existing first-floor devices and appliances. For reliability, I would argue for a 100 percent test of all the second-floor devices and appliances; after all, when did anyone last perform a complete test of these components? The code allows testing of 10 percent of the devices and appliances up to 50 components, as determined by the AHJ (see (2)). For instance:

“ Reacceptance Testing.

“ Reacceptance testing shall be performed as required in through

“ When an initiating device, notification appliance, or control relay is added, it shall be functionally tested.

“ When an initiating device, notification appliance, or control relay is deleted, another device, appliance, or control relay on the circuit shall be operated.

“ When modifications or repairs to control equipment hardware are made, the control equipment shall be tested in accordance with Table, items 1(a) and 1(d).

“ When changes are made to site-specific software, the following shall apply:

“(1) All functions known to be affected by the change, or identified by a means that indicates changes, shall be 100 percent tested.

“(2) In addition, 10 percent of initiating devices that are not directly affected by the change, up to a maximum of 50 devices, also shall be tested and correct system operation shall be verified.

“(3) A revised record of completion in accordance with shall be prepared to reflect these changes.

“ Changes to all control units connected or controlled by the system executive software shall require a 10 percent functional test of the system, including a test of at least one device on each input and output circuit to verify critical system functions such as notification appliances, control functions, and off-premises reporting.”

As you review the contractor’s proposed test plan, it is obvious that he does not thoroughly understand the code. As stated in the annex of the code, “Reacceptance testing is performed to verify the proper operation of added or replaced devices, appliances, emergency control function devices, control equipment, and so forth.”

Imagine if the fire alarm system fails to operate, the contractor ends up in court where a plaintiff attorney asks why the devices on the second floor did not operate, and the contractor replies, “I don’t know. I didn’t test them!”

The professional contractor understands that, by working on any system, he or she assumes responsibility for the correct operation of that system and must ensure, through testing, that the entire system operates reliably when all the work is completed.

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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