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

The 2013 edition has new terms and definitions

In the 2010 edition, if a patrolling guard didn’t perform his duties correctly (on time, in the prescribed order, etc.) a signal was caused. This signal, activated by their improper behavior, was called a “Guard’s Tour Supervisory Signal” which was “A supervisory signal monitoring the performance of guard patrols.” In the 2013 edition, NFPA 72 re-defines this term. Per the 2013 edition, “Guard’s Tour Supervisory Signal” will now refer to “the signals routinely generated by patrolling guards activating their guard tour stations.” In other words, it is now a guard’s tour-supervisory signal and no longer “a subset of the general category of supervisory signals as used in this Code [NFPA 72].”

So what signal is generated when a guard fails to start/finish patrolling on time, or goes out of order, or is late to or skips the next check-in station? According to the 2013 and previous editions of NFPA 72, this will automatically cause a “Delinquency Signal” which is: “A signal indicating a supervisory condition and the need for action in connection with the supervision of guards or system attendants.”

There are four terms under the “Accessible” heading which change meaning depending on their context: Accessible (as applied to equipment), Accessible (as applied to wiring methods), Accessible, Readily (Readily Accessible) [which I take to mean easily accomplished without tools or equipment] and Accessible Spaces (as applied to detection coverage in Chapter 17).


New cloud terms defined

The new term “Communications Cloud” is introduced as: “The area in the communications path that is supported by providers of communication services not governed under the scope of NFPA 72 in which signals travel between a protected property and a monitoring station. Depending on the type of transmission that is used, signals can travel on a single defined route or through various routes depending on what is available when the signal is initiated.”

Under the new heading of “Condition” which is defined as: “A situation, environmental state or equipment state of a fire alarm or signaling system,” six terms are listed which you will need to learn in order to fully understand the ten terms found under the new “Signals” heading discussed earlier. The six terms are: Normal Condition, Abnormal (Off-Normal) Condition, Alarm Condition, Pre-Alarm Condition, Supervisory Condition and Trouble Condition. A “Trouble Condition” is defined as “an abnormal condition in a system due to a fault.” “Fault” isn’t defined, however.

The use of the word “impairment” is not new to NFPA 72, but it has been added to the definition chapter of this 2013 edition as an “abnormal condition.” Then two kinds of “Impairments” are listed: “Emergency Impairment” and “Planned Impairment.”

Although none of these changes to fire alarm definitions will significantly impact how we do business, it is imperative that fire alarm professionals learn and begin to incorporate these new terms into our vernacular. And remember, providing input and commenting on committee proposals for the next code edition update, is always an option for all of us. If you don’t like the changes being made in the codes, make it a New Year’s resolution to get involved with the next round of revisions. Wishing a great 2013 and a Happy New Year to all my loyal readers.



Greg Kessinger is SD&I’s longtime resident fire alarm and codes expert. His column is the longest, continually running contribution in the 35-year history of the magazine. He can be reached at