Grill The Fire Expert

Programming Notification Devices


Q: I can’t find where NFPA 72 2002 allows me to program my notification appliances to time out after five minutes.

A: In the 1993, 1996, and 1999 editions of NFPA 72, the section covering this option is found in 1-5.4.8. But technically, NFPA 72 doesn’t allow the alarm to be automatically silenced. Instead, NFPA 72 only allows the AHJ to decide if they will permit this feature to be used: “If automatically turning off the alarm notification appliances is permitted by the authority having jurisdiction, the alarm shall not be turned off in less than 5 minutes.”

However, the five minute minimum seems to be merely a suggestion since the next line provides an exception for the AHJ to allow even less time: “If otherwise permitted by the authority having jurisdiction, the 5-minute requirement shall not apply.”

Finding this passage is much more difficult in the 2002 edition of NFPA 72. First the passage was changed from Chapter 1 to Chapter 4 and then divided into six sections, instead of three. Also, whenever a code passage is changed from the previous edition, a vertical line is required to be placed in the margin next to the revised text. This lets the reader know that this passage is different now. (When text has been deleted, NFPA places a dot where the passage used to be.)

NFPA didn’t indicate that this was a rule change in the 2002 edition, and did not add a line or insert a dot, but any mention of “five minutes” simply disappeared. Since they made no indication that this rule had been changed or omitted, I thought it might have been moved to another section of the book, but it wasn’t. Therefore, programming the FACP to time out after five minutes is no longer a decision to be made by the AHJ. I marvel at how some rules that were OK for many years (even this option decided on a case-by-case basis) suddenly become illegal. The real question is: was allowing this 5-minute option a mistake all these years, or was the mistake made when it was omitted?

If your jurisdiction/state is referring to the 1993 through 1999 edition of NFPA 72 then auto-silencing might be an option. However, if your jurisdiction/state has adopted the newer 2002 edition of NFPA 72, then this is the new rule: “ Alarm Signal Deactivation. A means for turning off activated alarm notification appliance(s) shall be permitted only if it complies with (A) through (D).

(A) The means shall be key-operated, located within a locked cabinet, or arranged to provide equivalent protection against unauthorized use.
(B) The means shall provide a visible zone alarm indication or the equivalent as specified in
(C) Subsequent actuation of initiating devices on other initiating device circuits or subsequent actuation of addressable initiating devices on signaling line circuits shall cause the notification appliances to reactivate.
(D) A means that is left in the “off” position when there is no alarm shall operate an audible trouble signal until the means is restored to normal.”

Greg Kessinger, SET, CFPS, president of an alarm installing company since 1981, teaches NICET training classes to fire alarm system designers and installers and continuing education seminars for Ohio’s fire alarm inspectors. You can reach him at 888-910-2272; e-mail:; or visit his website at