Fire & Life Safety: Proposed Changes to NFPA 72/2013

June 19, 2012
NFPA 72/2013 and new changes will be voted on at annual conference next month

May’s column generated some questions regarding NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, under review. If your question isn’t answered here, don’t despair. There will be plenty of time to sort it out before the 2013 Edition of NFPA 72 is adopted by your state or jurisdiction.

Q. Who is responsible for testing elevator recall and fan/damper shutdown for smoke control system operation?

A. Not the fire alarm installer. We only verify the proper operation of our control functions. If the control function interface device (i.e. relay) is “disabled or disconnected during testing, we must verify that the disabled or disconnected emergency control function interface device has been properly restored.” Wording is being added to the 2013 Edition of NFPA 72 that states: “Testing of the emergency control functions themselves is outside of the scope of NFPA 72.” Annex material explains that if you wish to test an interfaced smoke control system, then you should follow the adopted rules for testing smoke control systems, such as NFPA 92A. For testing elevator operation, ASME 17.2, “Guide for Inspection of Elevators, Escalators and Moving Walks” should be used. To understand the requirements for testing the entire building as a single safety system you should read NFPA 3, “Recommended Practice for the Commissioning and Integrated Testing of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems.”

Q. Are magnets allowed to be used for smoke detector sensitivity testing of certain types of detectors? Who has the final say on how a specific device is to be tested if not addressed in the Test Methods table in NFPA 72?

A. If the manufacturer’s installation instructions for a listed device states a magnet can be used to sensitivity test that smoke detector then yes, you can. And I hope the new language will finally be clear enough for those inspectors who insist on using smoke bombs and smoke machines to test duct detectors, yet not allow magnets listed for the purpose to be used for sensitivity testing.

Q. Is the requirement to test fire sprinkler system water flow at a rate of flow “equal to that of a single sprinkler of the smallest orifice size in the system...” being removed?

A. Yes, it will be replaced with the requirement to test waterflow in accordance with NFPA 25 Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems.

Q. What about the requirement to use a decibel meter during routine annual testing of fire alarm systems?

A. The NFPA technical committee dropped this requirement to verify audibility using a meter, from the 2013 Edition. The audibility test will now be a simple go/no-go process for the technician. The committee reasons “it is not the responsibility of the alarm technician to measure the operation against the original system design.” You must inform the customer if any device is not functioning or is missing. It is the building owner’s responsibility to consider changes to their facility might affect the audibility of alarm notification appliances, not the visiting fire alarm technician.

Q. Will more paperwork be required when the 2013 Edition gets adopted?

A. Yes. If you monitor single-family residential systems, you will have to notify the homeowner in writing, at least once a year that they are required to have their system tested annually. This may not be enforceable, but it can limit your liability. A proposal to require a service agreement to be in place for all code-required commercial fire alarm systems was rejected.

Q. Are fault isolation modules finally going to be required?

A. NFPA 72 may now have language limiting the number of addressable devices to 50 per SLC. For example, an entire seven-story building on a single Class B pair of conductors doesn’t seem right, I know. Some think that this number (50) is a bit restrictive and totally random. I predict the final word has yet to be heard on this proposal (see 72-269a and 72-293 on

Q. Will we still be able to install systems with more than one device per zone, or are point addressable/point ID fire alarm systems going to be mandated?

A. Any new proposal–and there were a great many–that attempted to require one device per point or require only addressable systems to be installed in new installations was (quite correctly) defeated.

Q. Will our supervising station operators now be able to verify fire alarm signals by calling commercial accounts before we dispatch, like we do now with our residential customers?

A. A lot of effort and attention was given to formulating new language that would permit alarm signal verification during a 90-second window. This should help reduce fire department dispatches on ‘false alarms.’ Look for something like this to be included in the new 72.

Q. Are DACTs going to be allowed to die a respectable death and become “obsolete technology” in a dignified manor?

A. No, there is new language that will require DACTs to transmit a test signal every six hours instead of every 24. The committee reasons that since the telephone companies only provide eight hours of standby power to their exchange equipment, the every six-hour test signal requirement will mean the fire alarm systems will more likely be able to detect one of the phone company’s standby power failures. Or, maybe this is just an insidious plot to motivate alarm companies to transition from the old DACTs.

Q. What changes to audible signaling were made?

A. When using voice EVAC systems, the temporal-three tone may now be used whether the subsequent voice message is to “relocate” or “evacuate!” Prior to this, T3 was specifically forbidden to precede a relocation message; a steady tone was required so that the listener didn’t get a ‘mixed message.’ The prevailing reasoning for this new allowance is that if one can hear a fire alarm signal, they should leave or move to where they don’t hear it anymore.

Q. Will there be a lot of changes to the 2013 code?

A. No, not a lot, but a few important ones. However, the code usually does its best to make it seem like a lot. For example, the following type of update (which changed just a few words) was applied over and over again in the new edition. Can you spot the change between these two sentences? Example 1: Communications between sending and receiving units in all directions where multiple communications pathways are provided shall be verified. Example 2: “Verify communications between sending and receiving units in all directions where multiple communications pathways are provided.” So, has the rule changed with the new wording? No. However, NFPA will place a vertical line in the margin next to all such ‘changes to the code’ and many will be amazed at all the ‘new rules’ in the next edition. I called out NFPA the last time they added over three and a half feet of vertical lines indicating a “new rule change” when they substituted the term “sleeping areas” for “bedrooms.” New rule? Hardly. Impressive use of lines? Very. I realize a code change must be indicated with a line in the margin, but how about adding a second line, or different style of vertical line, if the change to the wording results in an actual ‘rule’ change to how a system is designed, installed or maintained?