Usually the goal of a fire alarm system is to allow occupants to escape quickly and create a safer building for firefighters to enter; however, sometimes it is also to provide supervision and monitoring of critical equipment.
The various components of a fire alarm and suppression system are critical to the safety of the occupants and firefighters — not to mention required by building and fire codes; thus, it is imperative that the building owner is given every chance to do the right thing for all involved, and have the system regularly tested and under a Test and Inspection (T&I) contract.
Hopefully, this will be a contract with YOU.
In addition to ensuring the system will operate properly when needed, your company’s T&I contract program can add significantly to the bottom line of your company; in fact, there are companies that do nothing but provide testing and inspection of fire alarm systems others have installed.
Our goal is that the entire system, for the life of the system, meets the customer’s expectations and the code requirements by making sure it is always in as good operating condition as the day it passed its Acceptance Test. The only way this can be accomplished by the alarm company is through regular and comprehensive Tests and Inspections.
Growing Your T&I Business
Are you having a hard time growing your test and inspection business? I’ll admit, there is a lot to it. One issue many alarm company owners grapple with is how extensive the fire alarm T&I services will be.
The written Test Plan required by NFPA 72 (at 14.2.10), clarifies exactly what is to be tested, when and how, as well as what will not be tested. For example, the boundary of the fire alarm system extends up to and includes any emergency control function interfaces (i.e. relays). The testing of the actual interfaced equipment is outside the scope of NFPA 72.
Beyond those points, NFPA has published other standards that cover those systems. 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.
This new rule draws a line that makes it clear where the fire alarm service provider stops testing. But even within the system, there can be components, such as duct detectors, that your company may not be testing.
In the 2010 and 2013 editions of NFPA 72 (26.5.2), there is a requirement for any monitored commercial fire alarm customer to annually provide documentation to the AHJ identifying who is responsible for the testing and inspecting of the system. This document must also indicate the responsibilities and qualifications of the party doing the testing, AND be signed by a representative of the service provider.
To help your customers be in compliance, you can provide a signed, formatted letter to each customer under contract that can be presented to the AHJ. Then, attack your list of customers who are not under contract, and start setting up calls and appointments with them to explain what tests and inspections are required, and what you would charge to provide this service. Begin with the oldest customers, or the ones with a history of false alarm problems and those with the reputation of being in more high-risk occupancy types. Any nursing home or healthcare facility not under contract should also be high on your list.
In the end, T&I will provide your company with ongoing profit built into the fire alarm business.
Tests vs. Inspections
Testing refers to the functional tests required; inspections refer to the visual inspections that NFPA 72 also requires. Visual inspections are performed to make sure no environmental changes have occurred that could adversely affect equipment performance. Potential problems, such as corroded battery terminals and loose or damaged equipment, cannot be detected by the FACP but could be found during a visual inspection. A telephone distribution block hanging by the cables, for example, cannot be detected unless someone performs a visual inspection.