Fire & Life Safety: Fire Alarm System Submittals

Nov. 10, 2015
How to handle them, and why hiring an outside professional to do them might make sense

Most cities require fire alarm system plans to be submitted by a qualified individual to secure a permit before any system wiring may begin. Hiring someone to prepare your drawings may be the best way for the average alarm company to meet this requirement. Having a qualified and experienced person prepare your submittal drawings could actually save you money on every job.

Check if the jurisdiction your fire alarm system will be installed in will accept plan drawings prepared by a certified individual — someone who is seen as qualified, yet is not a licensed professional engineer or architect. It is true: usually the drawings the architect/engineer submitted for the construction of the building in order to get the building permit, was not reviewed for the required fire alarm permit.

To protect your interests, your contract must include wording that will allow your company to charge extra for equipment/features/functions not addressed in the bid documents, but are required by the fire alarm section of the adopted building/fire code — which some engineers and architects are not intimately familiar with. Recently, I have seen letters from jurisdictions stating that they want the drawings to be prepared by an architect, engineer, or other person “certified as NICET Level III or IV in fire alarm systems.”

Some jurisdictions will accept any plans and submittal documents that are correct and complete, which presents a tempting opportunity for an alarm company to go it alone; however, this person must still possess skill and understanding of the code in order to routinely have their plans approved on the first pass through the review process. Again, if the need to prepare fire alarm system submittals is not something that happens very often for your company, then consider farming this chore out to someone that can handle this expertly for you.

Benefits to the Bottom Line

Sometimes, the professional “system designer” will suggest equipment that provides a certain feature or function, that enables you to up-sell the customer and effectively offset the cost of paying for the professional to prepare the submittals. Likewise, the person you hire to prepare the plans can suggest eliminating features, functions, or equipment that is not required, saving your customer money and making you look even better in their eyes. In other words, winning a bid on an overdesigned project or sub-standard design could both end up costing you money and time.

Think about it this way — having plans sail through the plan review process the first time, having someone available that can go to bat for you with the local AHJ, in addition to lessening the possibility that you leave money on the table (or worse yet, have to eat the cost of your mistakes and omissions), plus freeing your company time for doing what it does best — sell, service and install — is priceless.

If you are unfamiliar with who you could contact to prepare fire alarm drawings, try asking your local suppliers. Don’t be afraid to ask for references and qualifications.

Elements of a Fire Alarm Submittal

The ICC Building/Fire Codes and NFPA 72 require at least the following information to be included in all fire alarm submittal documents and drawings submitted for review and approval:

  1. A floor plan that indicates the use of all rooms.
  2. Locations of alarm-initiating devices.
  3. Locations of alarm notification appliances, including candela ratings for visible alarm notification appliances.
  4. Location of fire alarm control unit, transponders and notification power supplies.
  5. Annunciators.
  6. Power connection.
  7. Battery calculations.
  8. Conductor type and sizes.
  9. Voltage drop calculations.
  10. Manufacturers' data sheets indicating model numbers and listing information for equipment, devices and materials.
  11. Details of ceiling height and construction.
  12. The interface of fire safety control functions.
  13. Classification of the supervising station.

The Devil is in the Details

Here is how most designers will usually PASS plan reviews (unless a locally adopted rule is different) followed by ways you could be REJECTED for correction, or which may delay approval until you submit additional information or provide clarification. (Either way, Tick-tock.)

  • PASS: Names of rooms like office, food pantry, closet, art storage, office supplies, or not used/un-occupied. REJECTED: Names like Mr. Jones, Fred’s, future storage or future anything (indicate what the room or space is used for NOW).
  • PASS: Type of initiating device (including part number) indicated using a symbol that matches your Key. REJECTED: Mounting height of manual pull box not indicated or the pull box is shown installed inside the exit (vestibule, air-lock, foyer, etc.).
  • PASS: Type of notification appliance (including part number) indicated using a symbol that matches your Key. REJECTED: Installing visual notification appliances in the exit stairwell.
  • PASS: FACUs indicated using a symbol that matches your Key. REJECTED: Not indicating the power connection for remote FACUs or the mounting height of a FACU.
  • PASS: Location of any and all annunciators (including part number) indicated using a symbol that matches your Key. REJECTED: When mounting height of annunciator is not indicated or the local fire department will not use that door for entry. Note that a smoke detector isn’t required to protect a remote annunciator, and annunciators are not required to be installed at lower ADA heights.
  • PASS: Electrical panel ID, location and breaker number. REJECTED: Not indicating supply as being 20 Amps or 15 Amps, having a red marking, or being protected and locked.
  • PASS: Factory battery calculation spreadsheet. REJECTED: Spreadsheet or other calculations that do not indicate the starting voltage is 20.4 volts; or security devices such as motion detectors that were not included.
  • PASS: FPL, FPLR, FPLP as needed, with gage indicated for each circuit. REJECTED: Not indicating how or where floor or wall penetrations are made which require fire stopping.
  • PASS: Factory voltage-drop calculation spreadsheet. REJECTED: Spreadsheet or other calculations that do not indicate the starting voltage is 20.4 volts or does not include the design load and capacity information for EVAC speaker circuits.
  • PASS: Submitted manufacturers' specification sheets and indicating the model numbers and listing information by using a checkmark, arrow or circle. REJECTED for clarification: Strictly sales brochures without the required compliance information.
  • PASS: Indicating the ceiling height in each room or space. REJECTED: Not indicating when there is a slope including direction of that slope with lowest and highest peak ceiling heights indicated. Also, not indicating the location, depth, spacing and direction of any exposed ceiling beams or joists (if you aren’t putting anything on the ceiling, this information is not required by the reviewer).
  • PASS: The interface method for all fire safety control functions. REJECTED: Not showing your relay being located within three feet of the device or controlled circuit; and forgetting to explain their operation in the required “sequence of operation.”
  • PASS: Classification of the supervising station. REJECTED: If you don’t provide this because you don’t know what they mean — since reporting methods are not ‘classified’ by NFPA 72. Your four possible choices will be Remote Supervising Station, Proprietary Supervising Station, or possibly even Central Station Service or Local/None/NA.

They say, “The devil is in the details” and as you can see, there are a multitude of details that need to be considered when preparing fire alarm system submittals. The cost of hiring a professional to handle this part of your project can be offset by their suggestions and their expertise, as well as free up your time to make more sales. If you feel like you are wearing too many hats, maybe it’s time to hand off this job.

Greg Kessinger is SD&I’s fire alarm and codes expert and a regular contributor. Please email him your fire & life safety questions at [email protected].