Collaboration Is The Key

Do you know everything you need to about the specialty electrical systems you install? What about the new technology that appears on the horizon? Probably not, since you cannot build a profitable contracting business by being a jack of all trades and master of none. But if something seems electrical in nature, you will likely be the first person asked to install it and possibly even involved in the design process.

To expand your business, it makes sense to look beyond the standard commercial electrical contracting work and include as much specialty work as possible. However, few new systems have the oversight of installation codes and standards. Fortunately, NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, offers some limited guidance when connecting other fire and non-fire systems that the fire alarm system will monitor or control. 

The code requires that the other systems shall not interfere with the fire alarm system operation, and it provides specific requirements for how other systems must connect to a fire alarm system.

For example, where interconnected as a combination fire alarm and smoke control system, a firefighter’s smoke control station must be provided to perform manual control over the automatic operation of the system’s smoke control strategy. The design of the smoke control system programming must provide features so that normal heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) operations, or changes, do not prevent the performance of the smoke control strategy.

To ensure the HVAC system will operate as intended, rely on collaboration. As the more knowledgeable contractor, you need to lead the charge for collaboration at your level to ensure everyone stays on the same page. Of course, the HVAC interface is one of the easier systems to integrate. 

What about the installation of a security system with access control, a paging system, or a stand-alone mass notification system? Will the building management system need to be integrated with the fire alarm system?

The key to successful design and installation of all of these systems is not trying to go it alone. You already understand many of the nuances of fire alarm system design and installation issues. To ensure the correct design and installation of all of the other specialty systems—and, when necessary, the correct interfacing with the fire alarm system—you should lead the collaboration efforts.

For example, a client asks to interface a high-end paging and sound system with the in-building fire emergency voice alarm communications systems (EVACS) so that only one set of speakers will serve both systems. Does NFPA 72 allow that integration, and if so, how should that integration be provided to ensure both code compliance and reliability?

This example requires collaboration with the sound and communications system contractors as well as with the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). The sound and communications systems contractor needs to design the speaker system to provide intelligible communications, but he or she may not know that the AHJ wants to enforce the requirement that all speakers must have received testing and listing by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. There are listed paging speakers that the sound and communications contractor could use for most applications. Further, the code allows it.

Your input regarding how to interface the sound and communications system is vital to ensure compliance and, more important, receive final AHJ approval at the acceptance test. The job of “code expert” is yours because the sound and communications system contractor has never had to follow any fire alarm requirements for his or her normal installations.

The AHJ needs to be assured that a failure of a nonlisted speaker will not disrupt the operation of the listed fire alarm speakers, nor operation of the fire alarm or mass notification control equipment. Typically, a dedicated speaker circuit and other audio components, such as amplifiers, would be used to meet this functionality.

Ensure the equipment that attaches to the fire alarm system through separate pathways will not impair the fire alarm system operation should short circuits or open circuits occur in the sound and communications equipment or between this equipment and the fire alarm system pathways. Such faults should not impede, impair or prevent the monitoring of the fire alarm, supervisory or fire safety control signal transmissions.

System integration never seems easy. Through collaboration with other design and installation teams, you can provide the customer with reliable operating systems, and the work can be done profitably.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. He is a vice president with Jensen Hughes at the Warwick, R.I., office and can be...

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