Fire & Life Safety: Permit Process Primer

Answering common questions associated with the review of fire installation plans

Permits are required for any construction regulated by your adopted building code — and this usually includes most fire and life safety systems. The following are my answers to some common questions regarding the fire alarm permit process: 


Who will review my fire alarm installation plans?

The local building department has building inspectors who are usually licensed and/or certified by the state. These inspectors may hire outside plan reviewers who are often engineers/architects who are usually licensed/certified by the state to perform plan reviews. Some building departments may elect to review the plans themselves; and some small or rural jurisdictions will not have a qualified inspector — in which case you will submit your plans to the state agency charged with this responsibility.


How can I determine the total fees for the permit and plan review?

Local and state inspection departments usually require a base fee for the permit and charge incrementally more for larger installations. Paying per device is OK, but you can get taken to the cleaners if a standard generic “electrical permit” imposes a fee based on the square footage of the structure. You will find it disproportional when submitting plans for a manual fire alarm system as opposed to paying per device. Some jurisdictions will even allow you to choose between the two.


How do I make sure I charge my customer enough to cover these costs without losing the contract because I overestimated the fees?

Many alarm companies will have the permit/submittal/inspection fee included in their fire alarm bid; however, some will have the building owner pay these fees directly, rather than overestimate the final cost. Make sure to explain to the customer that this arrangement ensures they will not be overcharged.


Why do I have to submit fire alarm plans after I get the job if the architect already has the building permit and the structure is already under roof?

The construction application necessary for breaking ground required the name of a registered design professional “who shall act as the registered design professional in responsible charge.” While this person (usually an architect) placed fire alarm symbols on his plans, the plans were not actually reviewed for compliance with the fire alarm rules of the code. While fire safety equipment is sometimes indicated on the plans for bidding purposes, the “the registered design professional in responsible charge” usually requests that the building department allow the fire alarm system (and HVAC, plumbing, elevator, etc.) plans to be “deferred.” When you complete your fire alarm “shop drawings,” the IBC states you must first submit these to “the registered design professional in responsible charge” who “shall review them and forward them to the building official with a notation indicating that the deferred submittal documents have been reviewed and found to be in general conformance to the design of the building.” The building department will then determine if your plans are in compliance with the code.


What if the project is an existing building and there is no registered design professional in responsible charge?

In this case, the building official will receive plans for approving the installation of a fire alarm system. Some states allow licensed and certified fire alarm designers or alarm technicians to prepare the required documents for submittal. (Chapter 9 of the IBC lists what is to be included with submittal documents.) All states allow licensed or registered architect or engineer’s to submit fire alarm documents and plans for approval by the code official.


What if the fire alarm submittals are rejected by the building department?

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