AHJ Tips and Tactics

Working with the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), it is important to know what is expected of them and what they expect from you. Before you start a fire alarm installation, it is critical to understand which obligations are yours and which are those of the AHJ.

The AHJ is the official representative and embodiment of the written requirements of the building code. (In a few locations, the fire department assumes this role.) In addition to the AHJ, others having a stake in the project include building owners, system designers and often architects/engineers and general contractors. While it may sometimes be stressful, the time to gather input from all stakeholders is before the job begins. Having to clarify or amend items after the contract has been signed or the job started multiplies the headaches many times over.

The building inspector should enforce the minimum adopted code requirements; provide timely Plan Review to obtain approval (could be outsourced); implement Acceptance Test supervision with trained field inspectors; and sign a Record of Completion or other acceptable documents once the fire alarm system has passed so the Certificate of Occupancy can be issued.

The next cog in the wheel is the person paying the bill-the building owner. If an architect is on the job, the building owner should have conveyed to them or the specifier their fire protection goals. They may work directly with a design-build organization like your alarm company. This contractual arrangement is preferred, as it eliminates a gate keeper to the owner and allows you direct access to the customer and the ability to offer your expertise. As required by code, make certain to provide the building owner with the following: an owner's manual; finalized Record of Completion; 'As-Built' drawings; manufacturer's instructions for all system equipment; sequence of operation; and site-specific software with current version numbers.

Whether the fire system designer is an employee of the alarm company or an architect/engineer hired by the building owner, they must be credentialed, thorough and knowledgeable. They are the experts and may act as an intermediary between the building owner, alarm company and the AHJ. The owner of the building may have voiced a set of fire protection goals to the system designer. The system designer will also determine national and local code requirements for occupancy type and identify and indicate proper interfaces to any fire safety control functions. They will prepare drawings and verify site floor plans, creating a submittal package that includes: equipment specification sheets; wiring styles; location of devices; voltage drop calculations; and more.

Adopted codes require you comply with many rules and occasionally you may have to comply with the requests of others such as the fire department. The fire department may provide the approval for location of annunciator(s); approval of zoning descriptions; preferred location of any Fire Command Center; number of fire fighter phones or handsets/jacks for EVAC systems if radios are absent; an approved description of areas served by duct smoke detectors; reacceptance tests if the fire alarm system has site-specific software changes; and location of Inspection Reports (if not at the FACP) and 'out of service' tags.

The fire alarm installation company has critical obligations and duties. The alarm installing company must review the contract, design documents and resolve any conflicts; secure the installation permit; properly install the system according to approved plans; prepare 'As-Built' specifications identifying minor device placement changes; perform an Acceptance Test with the building department, coordinating with other trades; prepare a Record of Completion; present the owner with a proposal for Test/Inspection agreement/contract; and assemble a list of their licensed fire alarm installers for the Building Department.

By no means is this an all-encompassing compilation of everyone's responsibilities, but instead a testament that parties must work together to ensure a properly designed, installed and working fire alarm system.

Greg Kessinger is SD&I's longtime resident fire expert and regular contributor to the magazine. Reach him at greg@firealarm.org.