Testing our Limitations

Changes are coming to the life safety industry

Using the 2013 edition of NFPA 72, the owner must be told, in writing, what equipment and functions are being tested and what are not. Armed with this knowledge, the owner may then hire qualified persons to maintain the other building systems, according to the published standards for each system. Our technicians will no longer give the impression that we have verified that the operation of other safety systems performed properly. Our business is fire and emergency alarm systems. Not locks. Not doors. Not elevators. Not smoke control equipment.

NFPA 72 states that we will provide “testing of the fire alarm or signaling system up to the end point connection to the interfaced system or emergency control function.” After that, NFPA has published other standards that cover their care and feeding. We cannot continue to give the impression that we have tested the performance of other systems when in fact; we have only verified we gave it the proper signal (see chart on page 55).


Going one step further

Starting with the 2013 edition, there seems to be another dividing line between persons designing the fire alarm system and those periodically testing it. For example, it is no longer the responsibility of the test and inspection technician to continue to use a decibel meter to measure audibility after the initial acceptance test. The 2013 edition has us only verifying notification appliances as being functional (flashing/sounding, or not). NFPA 72 states that it is no longer the intention of the yearly inspections to verify the suitability of the original design. If the building’s ambient noise has increased by construction or use, then it is the owner’s sole responsibility to determine any side effects on their building’s other safety systems. This is not to say a technician can’t suggest to the owner that additional equipment should be considered for an area housing their new metal stamping operation. They should, but the technician will no longer be responsible for maintaining the performance concept of the original design.


Q. Could these changes be a prelude to NFPA pushing for the adoption of their new commissioning standard?

A. It could be. Although NFPA 3 isn’t a “standard” just yet, this could easily change someday. The way to create a market for their new guide is for NFPA to better separate the testing of fire safety control functions and reference NFPA 3 for any integrated testing rules. For those of you who haven’t heard yet, NFPA 3 is the new: Recommended Practice for Commissioning and Integrated Testing of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems and is intended to provide owners of large buildings with end-to-end guidance for testing more involved, combination, life-safety systems and it provides “guidance on documenting and handling of faults, failures and corrective action for integrated testing.”

Only time will tell if these new provisions were necessary. And as always, until your state updates their Building Code to include the adoption of the 2013 edition of NFPA 72, these changes will not affect your work. But until then, it is wise to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to changes in standards that may directly impact your company’s operations. New T&I contracts, anyone?


Greg Kessinger is SD&I’s longtime resident fire alarm and codes expert and a regular contributor. Reach him at greg@firealarm.org.