We all remember our first fire alarm system installation. Good or bad, we learned from it. On my first installation, I remember going back to my office to speak with the “engineer” we relied on for information. He actually only had training as an electronics technician from a large organization that primarily worked with the military, but he was called an engineer. So, he had very limited, if any, experience with fire alarm systems. But I had even less experience with just one completed installation under my belt.
That said, when I left the job site, I had a gut feeling that we did not install the fire alarm system correctly. The wiring we used to interconnect the devices to the fire alarm control panel consisted of twisted, two-conductor, unjacketed 22 AWG wire. Also, of course, we strung it tightly like guitar strings and stapled it to the joists with a staple gun.
I approached the engineer with my concerns and told him about the wiring. Of course, I had no idea if I had used the correct number of heat and smoke detectors. But, back in the day, I had no idea what “correct” meant in terms of a fire alarm system design.
My eloquent engineer told me that he was “pretty sure” we were OK and that the system should work fine. When I pressed him for more info, particularly whether any rules existed that I should follow for fire alarm system design and installation, he said he thought an organization in Boston called the National Fire Protection Association might have some information we could use.
Unlike today, where we can simply Google it, I could only call “Information” to get the NFPA phone number. On that fateful fall day, I called that number and asked if they had any information on fire alarm systems. They did and sold me copies of NFPA 72A, B, C, D, E and NFPA 71 that were all contained in Volume 7 of their codes and standards series. In those days—I am really dating myself!—each document had very few pages. So, I sat down that evening after I received them and read each standard.
The next morning I went to the president of the company and explained that the fire alarm system we installed did not meet the requirements of NFPA 72. To his credit, he told me to lead the charge and get a crew back on the job to do the work correctly.
We immediately bought the appropriately listed cable and completely rewired the fire alarm system. I had to explain to the owner (our customer) that we discovered the rough wiring for the system was incorrect and we were rewiring the system at no charge to him.
After this, I became an avid codes and standards reader. I applied to become a member of the technical committee that wrote the fire alarm codes and standards. I also became the go-to source in the company for fire alarm system information. I then joined the sales team and, within six months, had developed a loyal following of customers who trusted my approach to fire alarm system design and installation.
Other than sharing a turning point in my life, why am I telling you all this? What does it mean for you?
It means you do not have to make the same mistakes I did. It also means you should buy a copy of NFPA 72 2016, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, and learn how to apply the requirements contained in the code. Assuming your goal is to increase your knowledge of the business you’re in, it only makes sense to own your own copy of the code. (I certainly hope you already own a copy of the National Electrical Code.)
Do not wait for your company to buy you a copy; invest in your future, and buy one yourself. As it states in the Scope of the first chapter of NFPA 72 2016: “NFPA 72 covers the application, installation, location, performance, inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire alarm systems, supervising station alarm systems, public emergency alarm reporting systems, fire warning equipment and emergency communications systems, and their components.”
In other words, this single book has the information you need to perform your work both more efficiently and in compliance with the code. As you become a more experienced technician, your goals should include becoming a trusted advisor to your customers and to your immediate superior. Your initiative will pay off in many ways, and your small investment will lead to your future personal growth.
As entrepreneur and speaker Jim Rohn said, “The best money spent is the money spent to cultivate the genius of your own mind and spirit.”