Tools You Can't Touch

Conducting a fire alarm system acceptance test in front of a fire official can prove daunting, even when the system passes muster. But doing any form of fire alarm system testing without having the proper tools is downright foolish.

The tools needed to properly test a fire alarm system include more than the physical tools or meters. Although the physical tools are very important, the “soft” tools are just as important, in my opinion.

By soft tools, I mean knowledge of the testing requirements contained in NFPA 72 2010, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. With this knowledge, you should stand ready to take charge of the testing and properly coordinate the testing with the appropriate officials. When it comes to conducting a successful fire alarm system test, such soft tools have equal importance with the physical tools. All of the tools necessary to test a fire alarm system represent a significant investment that will help ensure the proper performance of the acceptance test and a successful outcome. I will share more about this soft tool later.

But first, I want to focus on another very important soft tool: establishing a relationship with the fire official who will witness the tests. You must also establish the chain of command within your organization. Determine, in advance, who has the authority to contact the fire official and set a test date. This chain of command is vital. All too often, a general contractor will call the fire official to set a test date in an attempt to put pressure on the installing contractor to get the installation finished. Many times, this forces the contractor to present the system for testing before he or she has thoroughly completed the installation.

Typically, the fire official will show up to the job site expecting to find the fire alarm system ready for its acceptance test. And, when you explain that the fire alarm system is not ready for testing, or worse, allow the test to move forward knowing the system is not complete, the fire official will become upset that he or she has wasted time. As a result, the fire official will be less likely to want to choose a new test date and may even charge you a retest fee, and your reputation will suffer.

Avoid this botched event at all costs. Through your relationship with the fire official, establish a practice to ensure that, if the fire official receives a request for a test date from the general contractor, the official will not set a test date until you call to confirm the system is truly ready for an acceptance test.

Now, let me amplify the soft tool of knowing the testing requirements contained in the code. NFPA 72, itself, presents a list of some of the soft tools needed for system testing in Annex A of the code:

“A. Service personnel should be able to do the following:

“(1) Understand the requirements contained in NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code and the fire alarm requirements contained in NFPA 70, National Electrical Code
“(2) Understand basic job site safety laws and requirements
“(3) Apply troubleshooting techniques, and determine the cause of fire alarm system trouble conditions
“(4) Understand equipment specific requirements, such as programming, application, and compatibility
“(5) Read and interpret fire alarm system design documentation and manufacturer’s inspection, testing, and maintenance guidelines
“(6) Properly use tools and test equipment required for testing and maintenance of fire alarm systems and their components
“(7) Properly apply the test methods required by NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code”

As the installing contractor, you must be the coordinator for the other systems that form an integrated building life safety system. This often is a sticking point for contractors who may not have to serve as the actual, hands-on coordinator, but must at least ensure the general contractor performs this coordination properly. Without coordination, the acceptance test will fail.

As to physical tools, in order to expedite the acceptance testing, you must have the necessary equipment on-site at the time of the acceptance testing. This equipment includes the following:

• Fire alarm system manufacturer’s instructions
• The specifying engineer’s special instructions
• The approved narrative report, sequence-of-operation section
• Smoke simulation test equipment
• Sound pressure level meter
• A voice intelligibility meter if a system requires intelligibility testing
• Voltage meters
• Magnets
• Communication radios
• Special tools, such as laptop computers for system programming, etc.
• Notification announcements

You may not own some of the specialty test meters, but you must assume the responsibility to have the fire alarm system manufacturer’s representative at the test who should have this equipment and know how to use it.

Having the right tools will help to ensure the acceptance test succeeds. This will establish and maintain your reputation as a professional with the code officials involved in the projects.

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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