Grill The Fire Expert

Phone Line Requirements
I was at a fire alarm seminar put on by a manufacturer and the instructor, who is NICET level II, said that fire alarm panels are required to be placed on two separate phone lines and should be on two separate carriers (which I knew), but that the phone lines also must enter from separate sides of the building. Is that an AHJ thing, because I don’t see that anywhere in NFPA 72?
—W.E. from PA.

A: First, when using a DACT, only the primary method has to be a phone line; the back-up can be any of the 7 methods described in NFPA 72, 2002, at

Now, to address the second part of your question about where this “opposite ends of the building” rule comes from. My short answer is that it is not found in any edition of NFPA 72.

Since I’ve always speculated that this idea may be based on some present or past UL AA burglar alarm requirement, I decided to call someone with a long history with this segment of our industry. Richard Cantor operates a UL listed alarm company in Manhattan, NY and is President of the New York Electronic Security Association (NYESA). According to Cantor, this “separate entry” idea is not part of any present or past UL burglary protection standard.

Furthermore, as a redundant route, this is a poor choice since the two phone lines both start and end at the same point. If you seek true redundancy and survivability, radio transmitters and cellular radio systems using the “B” side of the signal path offer modern technology and are the way to go.

Bringing the Old School House Up to Code
I am preparing a quote for a customer (a school board) that has 13 different alarm panels in its buildings. The customer wants to upgrade some of its older panels. In the buildings where I will change the panels, am I required to bring the entire building up to meet code? Because these systems were installed years ago, they do not meet code now.
— W.E. from PA.

A: The fire codes always allow for the “grandfathering” of its rules. Therefore, these buildings, as they stand today, do meet code. After having said that, they can be made to be brought up to current code whenever repairs or additions are performed. If these schools are as old as you say, then their notification appliances will not be electrically compatible. ADA and its requirements listed in ADAAG are part of federal civil rights laws. Buildings are not permitted to be grandfathered from ADA in the same way as they are for the fire codes. The pull stations would have to be lowered so that the boxes handle is between 42 to 48 inches.

Also, these older alarm systems were usually wired as one large zone, and should now be divided to meet modern Building Code “zone of origin” requirements. To be sure, you should ask the local code official if you will be permitted to only replace the control panels. Good luck with that.

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 Greg Kessinger at 888-910-2272; e-mail:; or visit his website at