New IFC & IBC Fire Alarm Changes for 2009

In spite of the fact that the entire Fire Alarm and Detection Systems sections in Chapter 9 of the recently published 2009 International Fire Code (IFC) and International Building Code (IBC) have vertical lines along each page, indicating that everything changed, it mostly amounts to a reshuffling of existing rules and their renumbering. Upon close examination, you’ll notice some of the changes are simple clarifications of existing wording. Most of the remaining new changes represent the inclusion of existing rules taken from NFPA 72, which were already required. Only a few of the changes indicated in the IFC and IBC actually affect how we install fire alarm systems and smoke alarms.

NFPA 72 existing rules present in new IFC/IBC

  • Strobe lights are not required in elevator cars: see 907.5.2.3.
  • A smoke or heat detector is required to be provided at the location of each fire alarm control unit, notification appliance circuit power extenders and supervising station transmitting equipment, see 907.1.2(4).
  • One advantage of taking this requirement from NFPA 72 is that the local AHJ can see that annunciator/keypads are not included in this list and will realize these devices are not to be included in this spot-protection requirement A disadvantage is that the IBC/IFC also bought in the unfortunate wording from NFPA 72 which allows an exception for a sprinklered building. In what world is it an acceptable trade-off to permit the elimination of the early detection of smoke to protect a control panel, for the slower detection of high heat levels, followed soon after by a dousing of water?
  • The requirement for at least one manual pull box will be removed from the next 2012 edition of NFPA 72 because it was a level-of-protection requirement--a protection level isn’t something NFPA 72 is supposed to provide. The “at least one manual pull box” rule is now required by the 2009 IFC/IBC in 907.2 (yet still no guidance on why or where it is to be installed).
  • The maximum sound level of a building now cannot exceed 110dBA, 907. This is 10dBA lower than the previous maximum sound level allowed and is now in line with NFPA 72, 2007.
  • Average ambient sound pressure of 95dBA is now the point where strobe lights must be added in lieu of adding more audible devices (instead of 105dBA); again to be in line with NFPA 72, 2007 requirements, see 907.

New sections in the 2009 IFC/IBC might affect installations

  • The cab of airport traffic control towers do not have to have audible notification appliances installed (907.2.22 exception).
  • Protective covers installed over manual pull boxes cannot project more than the four inches, as allowed by section 1003.3.3.
  • Voice evacuation systems were only allowed to be used for non-emergencies when permitted by the local code official. Now they are allowed to be used for announcements, see 907.

New section of IFC/IBC 2009 may pose a conflict

  • NFPA 72 states that emergency voice alarm speakers are not required in exit stairwells but 2009 IFC/IBC 907.5.2.2(2) requires them.

The IBC’s Fire Alarm and Detection Systems section is in sync with the exception that the IBC’s fire alarm section ends with a rule that states that the test, inspection and maintenance rules are contained in the IFC. The IFC fire alarm section is longer than the IBC since it includes the ongoing test, inspection and maintenance rules, with a special mention (and duplication) of NFPA 72’s sensitivity testing requirements. Found only in the IFC is the requirement for the building owner to appoint a responsible impairment coordinator to oversee the building’s fire protection (901.7) and contains the new rules for the tagging of fire alarm systems.

Greg Kessinger, SET, CFPS, can be reached at or