Q&A with the AHJ

Q. Who are all the AHJs defined in NFPA 72, and who is in charge of what?  

A. For the answer to this, consult Appendix A.3.2.2. It states that the term AHJ is used “in a broad manner, since jurisdictions and approval agencies vary, as do their responsibilities. Where public safety is primary, the Authority Having Jurisdiction may be a federal, state, local, or other regional department or individual such as a fire chief; fire marshal; chief of a fire prevention bureau, labor department, or health department; building official; electrical inspector; or others having statutory authority.” In the course of plans, reviews, or an alarm installation, you may have several AHJs as the local fire inspector is your personal contact. You may also have a state electrical inspector, a state fire marshal and a state building inspector. All of these bodies have a hand in code enforcement.

Q. Who is considered a building official? 

A. The easiest answer would refer to a local building inspector or code enforcement officer. The two main people that you would be dealing with would be the Code Enforcement Officer and the Fire Inspector. The key is an individual “having statutory authority” or the authority to enforce code. The pretext would not be indicating a building owner or maintenance person.
I have seen alarm contractors install alarm devices in manners contrary to Code because they were told to do so by the maintenance person or a building owner. This gets sticky, as the contractor wants to keep the customer happy (and sometimes just keep the customer) but in order to do so must deviate from Code. The contractor can use this to his advantage. When a request is made, all the contractor needs to do is show Code and help the customer explain why he must obtain approval.

Q. How do you become a building official or fire inspector?

A. I started as a contracted inspector for Fire and Life Safety. I then transitioned into more municipal work by joining a small fire department and after much additional schooling and training, I was hired full time at a larger full-time department. I actually made more money as a contractor, but I can make more of a difference as fire marshal.

Q.What inspection rights does the AHJ  have?

A. An AHJ has rights as outlined in NFPA 1- “To the full extent permitted by law, any AHJ engaged in fire prevention and inspection work shall be authorized at all reasonable times to enter and examine any building, structure, marine vessel, vehicle, or premises for the purpose of making fire safety inspections.”
Inspections at reasonable times does not mean “cart blanche entry” into any facility. If someone objects and does not want you to enter his premises, you simply leave. You must then go through the Administrative Warrant process to gain entry and perform what it is you wanted to do. The AHJ should not force themselves into the protected premises.
 This of course covers inspection, not acceptance testing, which is what alarm contractors are accustomed to. The acceptance testing of an alarm or alarm system is covered in detail in NFPA 72 - 10.4

Q. How do we know who is in charge of the fire alarm installation?

A. As Code and AHJs (and even internal to the different codes themselves) the common denominator is “the most stringent governing body,” i.e. if the AHJ tells you that he is approving an installation and you know that the install is in fact sub-par, then yield to Code. If the Code stated that something was not required and yet the AHJ insists on it, he now has become the most stringent governing body. The best advice that I can give is when a request is made in either of these cases it’s best to get it in writing.

Peter S. Cutrer is a fire marshal (AHJ) in Maine