The Final Vote on NFPA 72, 2010

The annual NFPA Conference and ExpO in Chicago I attended in June consisted of several pay-per-view seminars and committee meetings. The exposition wasn’t as well attended as past shows, which was probably due to the slow national economy and local fire department budgetary constraints. The big newsworthy event that happens at the conference every three years is the vote by the membership on the proposed changes to the National Fire Alarm Code (NFPA 72). In order to vote, you must have been a member of NFPA for at least the previous three months (so you don’t join just to vote on a specific change affecting your industry), travel to the convention and pay the conference registration fee ($265). Now that the voting has taken place, NFPA 72 will be accepted as amended and the new code will be published this fall. However, the fat lady didn’t sing until the final motions were addressed at the last session of the conference. Anyone who sent a code change proposal to NFPA for consideration during the proposal stage of the code cycle, and had their proposal rejected by that chapter’s technical committee (TC), had the opportunity to override the committee’s decision by forcing a floor vote. To do this they notified NFPA in writing, well in advance of the conference, that they wished to force a vote on the issue. They filed a Notice of Intent to Make a Motion (NITMAM) with the hope that they could reverse the technical committee’s decision. The filing of a NITMAM tips off everyone that a particular code change isn’t going to be finalized until a vote is taken at the conference.

Anyone who has been an NFPA member for at least 90 days may attend the session on NFPA 72 and speak for or against the NITMAM and/or vote to keep or reject the TC’s decision. If anyone has a serious interest in keeping or overturning the TC’s decision, they may decide to rally their troops. If you bring many voting members and you have enough votes, then your proposal may be accepted with the rest of the NFPA 72 after all. If you have your ducks in a row and pay the extra fee for your members to vote, your voice can be heard at this meeting by attending the session where your standard is scheduled to be voted on, Use one of the half dozen floor-stand microphones placed in the aisles for this purpose. There are “for” the proposal microphones and “against” the proposal microphones. Members who wish to speak simply state their name, then voice their reason(s) why the amendment should be accepted or left as the TC decided. You can even read a prepared statement. After some passionate discussion, someone will call for a vote.

It was proven once again this year, that every vote counts when only three votes from the NBFAA representatives present caused a last minute change to be made to the household chapter of NFPA 72. A floor motion on the NITMAM agenda this cycle was to accept a proposal that had been rejected by the NFPA 72’s Chapter 11 Household committee. The committee had rejected a proposal that would change the testing frequency of a homeowner’s fire alarm system/control panel from every three years, to once a year. The floor vote, which passed by only three votes, was effective in overturning the technical committee’s rejection of the proposal. Therefore, NFPA 72, 2010, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, will now require homeowners to have their fire alarm system/control panel tested by a professional every year (where the previous editions of NFPA 72 only required it every three years). The New Jersey fire marshal who had this proposal rejected by the TC, struck a chord with the majority of those present when he brought up the number of false dispatches caused by these (usually) monitored professional fire alarm systems. It’s one thing for a homeowner to be annoyed with nuisance alarms due to lack of maintenance of their smoke alarms, but it is more than an annoyance when a homeowner’s dirty smoke detectors cause the fire trucks to roll. Yes, he mentioned that most American firefighter deaths occur while driving to or from a fire (or, in many cases, no fire.)

The 2010 edition of NFPA 72 will also address a variety of emergency communications systems in addition to traditional fire alarm systems. Provisions for these systems will be contained in a new chapter called Emergency Communications Systems (ECS). The types of systems included will be: in-building fire emergency voice/alarm communications systems; in-building mass notification systems; wide area mass notification systems; distributed recipient mass notification systems; two-way in-building wired emergency service communications systems; two-way radio communications enhancement systems; and area of refuge emergency communications systems.

Code revisions will address issues related to the integration of fire alarm systems and emergency communications systems. The Code will require signal priorities to be established using risk analysis. In fact emergency communications signals will be allowed to override fire alarm signals when a risk analysis demonstrates the need to allow it. (However, it would not be true to say that all mass notification signals will be permitted to override fire alarm signals.)

On the show floor, of the 350 or so companies with exhibits, less than 10 percent displayed fire alarm equipment. The bulk of the other exhibits, were suppression related, and those booths displayed shiny brass valves, hoses, pipes, pumps and controllers, for foam, gas, and water mist, for connection to assorted tanks and hydrants. These exhibits were interspersed with other booths manned by employees from various safety associations, firefighter training providers, equipment listing organizations, testing companies, trade publications and engineering firms.

With over 131 education sessions at the NFPA Conference, seven pertained to fire alarm systems, but only two dealt solely with fire alarm systems. The first fire alarm seminar topic was about understanding mass notification challenges and the second provided an introduction to NFPA 3, the new commissioning standard. Analyzing this new NFPA publication and other changes adopted at the NFPA conference will require several columns which I will continue for you next month. All in all, the 2009 NFPA Conference was, and always has been, an opportunity for members to express their opinion about proposed code changes, influence and be influenced by others in the industry, and most importantly, have their vote count and make a difference.