Testing our Limitations

Changes are coming to the life safety industry

Upon close inspection, there seems to be a philosophical change occurring in the latest 2013 edition of the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code especially regarding system testing responsibilities. It appears an obvious effort has been made to limit our responsibility to only the equipment we install—specifically, the equipment we have installed under the fire safety control function rules of NFPA 72. The other codes have their dividing lines as well. The Building Code covers the minimum level of protection for the construction of certain commercial buildings based on what that building will be used for and by how many people. The Building Code also references NFPA 72 for the proper location, installation and function of the equipment required. The Fire Code regulates the on-going system maintenance by requiring compliance with NFPA 72’s testing and inspection chapter after the building is completed. A new defining line in NFPA 72 indicates that we must state more exactly, and in writing, what services we are providing the building owner while performing our regular fire alarm tests and inspections.


Q .Has the documentation requirements changed to follow this new concept?


A. Yes. A new rule in section 14.2.10 now requires a “Test Plan.” This documentation will be created for each fire alarm system to “clearly establish the scope of the testing for the fire alarm or signaling system” and requires that this Test Plan be kept with the regular test and inspection records for that system. Another notable change has been introduced that will limit our testing responsibilities. For example, if your system ties in smoke dampers, you will not be testing the operation of the smoke dampers, but will verify the proper signal (usually a relay contact closure) is caused by the fire alarm system that is intended to activate the damper-closing mechanism. Equipment connected to our fire alarm system relays is not within the scope of our responsibility. The same can be said for elevator recall operation. Our responsibility is to provide three (or more) relay contacts labeled with the physical location of the detectors that are associated with each relay. We will no longer test the recall function of elevator cars. Instead, we will simply verify that our relays are operating when told to do so by the appropriate automatic detectors.


Q. Have the methods used to test these devices changed?


A. No, but the circumstances under which fire alarm devices should be tested has been made clearer. Usually, the best way to determine if an interfaced operation/function has occurred is to watch it take place. Sometimes, there is more to the operation of an emergency safety function—a lot more. If you see a relay change state using a VOM, the fan (for example) in the stairway should start. Maybe you even heard the fan start, but didn’t realize the venting damper didn’t open all the way on the second floor; and after a time, the air pressure built up in the stairwell beyond the limits that allow the exit doors to be easily opened. If we were following rules prior to this 2013 edition, our test report may have indicated that the stairwell pressurization fan functioned properly, but in reality, the safety function did not perform as intended. Another example could be that of magnetic holders installed on hallway doors that are programmed to release the fire doors in the event of a fire alarm. What if we didn’t know that these doors must close and latch? NFPA 80 requires that people testing these doors know their business: “Functional testing of fire door and window assemblies shall be performed by individuals with knowledge and understanding of the operating components of the type of door being subject to testing.” Unless you specifically include it in writing, in your “Test Plan” specifics, the performance of connected safety systems will not be part of your fire alarm inspection services.

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