Planning a Fire Alarm System

Ask any electrical contractor—fire alarm installations are on the upswing. Much of the need in the marketplace is driven by codes or the need to update an aging building infrastructure with new fire protection technologies.

Your goal, of course, is the all important certificate of occupancy. But before you begin pricing such a system you need to take steps to make sure the final specification will meet or exceed applicable requirements by local, state or federal jurisdictions or other approval or governing bodies.

The final word
First stop: Your local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).

“Everything reverts back to the AHJ,” said Steve Tamplin, manager, Fire Systems Group (FSG), Honeywell Life Safety, Duluth, Ga. “No matter what the codes might say, the local authority always has the final word.”

There may be certain restrictions or requirements, depending on the nature of the facility, where it’s located or other concerns, he added.

“Don’t do anything before you consult the AHJ,” he said. “You have to know what year of the NFPA 72 Life Safety Code the fire authority is working from.”

Fire authorities can adopt the most recent code or operate under a previous version. NFPA Life Safety Code 2007 will include new changes and clarifications specific to the fire alarm contractor and their work, he added.

Preplanning is the most critical part of working in the fire alarm industry. Specifying a system can be a lengthy process and can be very frustrating for an inexperienced company, said John Hyatt, U.S. systems sales manager for Tri-Ed Distribution, Dallas.

“The fire alarm contractor or FAC is solely responsible for the fire alarm system installation and approval from the AHJ. The FAC carries great responsibility on their shoulders. If the fire system is not designed correctly from the architect and engineer, the AHJ will not approve occupancy, so the opening of the building could be delayed. So to prevent cost overruns and a loss, a FAC should have a National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) III or IV employee on staff to review the plan before doing anything,” he said.

Hyatt said after the FAC is awarded the bid, the following process should be adhered to:
  • A submittal package should be assembled containing the fire alarm system type, size, rating, style, catalog number, riser diagram, wire type(s), manufacturer’s names, photographs and data sheets.
  • All documents should be placed in a binder or folder to submit to the AHJ for approval.
  • No equipment should be ordered without approval.
Fire alarm distributors and manufacturers make it their business to stay current on all the changes and requirements in the industry and should be the second stop in planning a system.

“It’s extremely critical for the electrical contractor to look at the requirements for the specification to determine the proper cost and that’s where the manufacturer can help,” Tamplin said. “For example, if the system requires a Class A wiring configuration, that’s a critical item that automatically adds cost to a job. With Class A, the wiring has to be run in a continuous loop, so that means more wiring but added system integrity.”

Planning a fire alarm system doesn’t have to be a monumental task, especially if you take advantage of the support services from the AHJ, the manufacturer, associations and experienced contractors you might partner with. Start now and you’ll be well-positioned to make this growing business part of yours.

O’Mara is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or

About the Author

Deborah L. O'Mara

Freelance Writer
Deborah L. O’Mara is a journalist with more than two decades experience writing about security, life safety and systems integration, and she is the managing director of DLO Communications in Chicago. She can be reached at

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.