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Does Your Fire Alarm Play Well With Others?

Although attempts at commissioning and fully integrated testing of fire protection systems have occurred in the past, they have been hit or miss. It is especially important with fire and life safety systems because, in many cases, these systems sit there passively until an emergency arises and they need to work properly. Will they? Have the integrated systems ever been tested together?

Knowing that everything has been tested together and the results documented provides peace of mind. Beginning this year, opportunities should increase with the introduction of the 2012 NFPA 3, Recommended Practice for Commissioning and Integrated Testing of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems. A recommended practice rather than a standard, it only provides guidance for documented confirmation that fire protection and life safety systems function as intended by the owner and the design team.

It has always been a good practice to ensure all parts of these systems interface properly, but due to lack of coordination and cooperation of the trades involved, it doesn’t happen all the time. Unfortunately, “that’s not my job” is heard all too often on construction sites. The commissioning and integrated testing teams will now have a document to assist contractors and give more assurance to owners that what they are buying will work as expected.

Although NFPA 3 is new this year, there is already a change underway. NFPA is splitting this document into two. NFPA 4, Standard for Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing, will soon provide integrated testing requirements, while NFPA 3 will concentrate on the commissioning. NFPA just started on NFPA 4 this January. It will be a couple of years before it is available, but it will be a standard instead of a recommended practice.

NFPA 3 addresses the administrative and documentation requirements and describes the commissioning agent and team. Chapter 4 describes the qualifications of commissioning personnel. The commissioning team should consist of the owner, commissioning agent, registered design professional, manufacturers representatives, any installation contractors whose equipment is part of the fire protection and life safety systems, the general contractor, a third-party test entity, the authority having jurisdiction and an insurance representative, if necessary.

Chapter 5 addresses the commissioning process and responsibilities of each member of the commissioning team. It takes the project from the planning stage through the occupancy and operation of the facility. During the planning stage, the commissioning team develops the owners’ project requirements (OPR), selects the commissioning agent, identifies the commissioning scope, develops the preliminary commissioning plan, reviews the planning documents and develops the regulatory code analysis. It simply means that the team will contact the various regulatory agencies to ensure all enforced laws, codes, standards and policy requirements are met.

During the design phase, the basis of design is developed, the sequence of operation is reviewed and approved, drawings are reviewed, and a commissioning schedule and appropriate checklists are created. The annex includes examples of checklists and forms that are helpful to anyone involved in commissioning or testing integrated systems. The construction phase is split to include the preinstallation, rough-in and finish phases.


Chapter 6 describes integrated systems commissioning. It is a very important step to ensure all the various systems work together as intended. Chapter 7 addresses the testing of the integrated testing and is the basis for the new NFPA 4 document.

NFPA 3 also addresses retrocommissioning for existing buildings that didn’t go through the commissioning process when built and recommissioning for facilities to ensure everything still operates as it did during the original commissioning stage. It is a good idea to periodically recommission a building to ensure compliance, although NFPA 3 does not establish a specific time frame. There was a great deal of debate about that during the development of the document.

I know some of you are already involved in commissioning and testing integrated systems. For those who are not, I see this as another excellent way to build your business through these tough economic times and beyond. Like everything else, spend the time to learn all you can about commissioning and testing, network with your peers, and get involved in this important process.

HAMMERBERG is 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 TomHammerberg@afaa.org.

About the Author
Tom Hammerberg

Thomas P. Hammerberg

Life Safety Columnist

Thomas P. Hammerberg, SET, CFPS is an independent fire alarm presenter and consultant in The Villages, Fla. He can be reached at TomHammerberg@gmail.com.

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