Installing Fire Alarm Systems - Part I: A Quick Guide To Getting Started In The Business

Many electrical contractors have attempted to install commercial fire alarm systems and because they were not properly prepared, they did not enjoy the experience. What steps do you take to properly install such a system? How can you ensure that the system you install today will work in the future when a fire occurs?

Contractors know that when an outlet or fixture fails to operate they can schedule the repair call when one of their technicians is in the area. When the fire alarm system fails to operate, they must respond in a length of time as defined by the codes. If the system fails to operate in a fire, be assured of speaking to a lawyer. Because of life-safety implications, these systems may take on more importance than your average electrical installation.

What steps should be taken to properly install a system? How can you ensure that the system installed today will work when a fire occurs?

Here’s a guide on how to properly install a fire alarm system. Making the decision to enter the fire-alarm market is like making any other business decision. Ask yourself the question: How can I become a credible force in this market?

First, make a commitment to learn everything about the business. Understand how fire detectors react to ensure that the systems you install will provide the protection you planned. Having installation experience—providing it’s the right kind—with electrical systems is not enough. Take steps to educate yourself about fire, fire detection, and the applicable codes and standards. Determine whether or not you will have specialist technicians, both journeyman and helpers, who know fire alarm systems and have electrical systems expertise.

Taking the first step to become a credible fire-alarm installer, means obtaining the knowledge necessary to understand everything that makes up the fire-alarm market.

Get the most recent copy of the relevant codes and standards. Most electricians already own a copy of the National Electrical Code. Next, you should buy a copy of the “National Fire Alarm Code,” from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

The “National Fire Alarm Code‚” provides installation requirements, maintenance, testing, and use of fire detection initiating devices, fire alarm system control units, notification appliances, and how these components work together to form a protection system.

The NFPA code book describes one of the major differences between fire alarm systems and basic electrical systems: a codes and standards process that regulates the fire alarm system installation over and above the NEC installation requirements. Also, during installation, someone new—in addition to the electrical inspector—will look over your shoulder to determine if you have complied with these codes and provided a quality installation. That “someone” is called the authority having jurisdiction or “AHJ.”

Confusion may occur because the AHJ can be the fire official, the insurance provider or owner representative. Be aware that often more than one AHJ may be involved with the project. Determine who will likely serve as the AHJ, and what requirements he or she will have for installations in his or her jurisdiction.

After becoming familiar with the applicable codes, and depending on your time availability, try to attend an introductory fire alarm systems seminar. A number of reputable organizations offer them, such as the NFPA (on understanding the codes) and the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (AFAA), which offers code-related courses, application courses and more advanced courses.

The “Training Manual on Fire Alarm Systems,” published by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and distributed by the AFAA, serves as an excellent training resource for first-time installers. It explains what makes up a fire alarm system and includes sections such as, “Installation Instructions for Fire Alarm Systems and “System Start-up Procedure.” Another useful booklet is NECA’s “Standard for Fire Alarm System Job Practices.”

It is easy to see from this introduction that understanding fire alarm systems applications and code requirements is important factors to your success in code-compliant installations. Part two of this article will give additional references and a checklist on how to get started in the right direction to properly install a fire alarm system. EC

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.


About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker, writer and expert in the life safety field, has been a principal member and chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24, as well as a former principal member of NFPA 909 and NFPA 914. He is the...

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