Fire & Life Safety--Playing Hide and Seek with NFPA 72 Definitions

The 2013 edition has new terms and definitions


A new year brings with it an opportunity for a fresh start and the 2013 Edition of NFPA 72 is no different. Re-printed every three years, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (NPFA 72) brings with it new rules and regulations that I will be explaining or complying with over the next several years. Therefore, with the opening of each new edition, I feel a bit of trepidation as well. The other day I reluctantly peeled off the shrink-wrap containing the paperback and hardbound editions of the 2013 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. The books have been sitting on my desk for several weeks now. It’s almost like seeing someone that you haven’t seen for a while, and you find yourself asking: “What’s new?”

Discovering that your old friend is speaking a new language can be disconcerting. In order to keep from having to ask “what do you mean?” all the time, I immediately paged to Chapter Three to read the definitions for the terms I’ll be using for the next several years. Whether or not I’ll adopt the new lingo remains to be seen. I thought the way of the future, and the wise, was to adopt general rules that would fit any new developments in technology. But I am finding that with the increase of possible fire alarm ‘pieces and parts’ many more definitions have been added to this code edition—even if it meant having to invent terms.

NFPA 72 is grouping terms or combining terms to make newer, longer terms. For example, take your basic term: Alarm. The 14th entry in the definition chapter of this edition is “Alarm Signal” and the reader is directed to turn to the 257th entry and look under the heading “Signals.” The first of 10 signals listed there (under the “S”s) is “alarm signal.” It is here that the book provides the sought-after definition: “A signal that results from the manual or automatic detection of an alarm condition.” What you can’t tell, is that there is a definition for “alarm condition” under a new heading called “condition.” An “alarm condition” is: “An abnormal condition that poses an immediate threat to life, property or mission.” There is no definition for “abnormal.” Notice that you can find the term “Adverse Condition” under “A” right after “Addressable Device” and not under “C” with the other six “Conditions.” It couldn’t be easier, right?

All of the “alarm” definitions are now under the heading “signals” where they use the same word “alarm” but state that each is caused by a “_____ condition.” For instance a pre-alarm signal is defined as being caused by “the detection of a pre-alarm condition.” A “trouble signal” results from the detection of a trouble condition.

A “signal” of some type, is caused by a “condition” of the same name and merits a “response” category. In the new “response” section, NFPA 72 defines ‘Alarm Response,’ ‘Pre-Alarm Response,’ ‘Supervisory Response’ and ‘Trouble Response.’ These are all defined as “Actions performed upon the receipt of [that] signal” yet there is no mention of what the action consists of that should be in the code language as a requirement.

Of the 320 terms, or grouped terms, more than a third gives us the ‘see somewhere else’ message. The term “Nuisance Alarm” has been added but it came bundled with three other unwanted alarm types. If you look up “Nuisance Alarm” you’ll read: “See Unwanted Alarm” (another new term I didn’t know I lacked). An unwanted alarm is “Any alarm that occurs that is not the result of a potentially hazardous condition.” (Checking back under the “condition” grouping, I see there are six conditions, but “hazardous condition” isn’t one of them.) There are four examples of “unwanted alarms” listed—Malicious, Nuisance, Unintentional and Unknown. In case you were wondering, a malicious alarm is “caused by a person acting with malice.” Good to know.

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