Author(s): Wayne Moore. Published on July 1, 2019.

In Compliance | NFPA 72

Fire alarm system roles and responsibilities


We know that a fire alarm system installation goes through many phases before it is ready for use. These phases include a discussion with the owner about their desired system performance and detection goals, system design, equipment selection, and, finally, the installation and final acceptance tests for the installed system. During this process there are numerous players involved, and each bears a responsibility to ensure the fire alarm system installation meets both the owner’s needs and the requirements of the code.

In the 2019 edition of NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®, Section 10.5 provides the qualification requirements for the system designer; system installer; supervising station operators; inspection, testing and service personnel; system programmers; and plans examiners and inspectors. Among the responsibilities of the system designer is that they be experienced in the design, application, installation, and testing of fire alarm systems. The designer in every case must evaluate the building conditions, determine building code requirements as they apply to the fire alarm system, and ensure a clear understanding of the owner’s fire protection goals for the fire alarm system’s performance. The designer, with the owner’s input, then chooses the proper fire alarm system equipment that meets both the performance and financial goals of the owner.

If the designer is not the supplier of the equipment, then it is the responsibility of the supplier to understand the system design in order to ensure the equipment supplied will meet the design intent. Often, the equipment supplier is responsible for programming the fire alarm system operation, again in accordance with the system designer’s operational matrix. It will be the system supplier’s responsibility to ensure the system programmer is qualified. The code requires these individuals to be trained and certified by the manufacturer of the system being installed. Of course, after the equipment has been chosen, the system installation plan must be developed using the specific information provided by the supplier.

It is the responsibility of the plans examiner to ensure the installation plan conforms to the design and that the system will be code compliant. When the installation is complete, the system will need to be acceptance tested, which is typically witnessed by an inspector representing the jurisdiction in which the system is being installed. The responsibility for the installed system then shifts to the owner.

This is where many in the fire alarm systems profession believe the operational reliability of the installed fire alarm system can be adversely impacted. Many owners do not understand that they are solely responsible for the ongoing testing and maintenance of their building’s new system. It is important for the fire official to advise the owner of their responsibility based on the code requirements. Chapter 14 states that the “property or building or system owner or the owner’s designated representative shall be responsible for inspection, testing, and maintenance of the system and for alterations or additions to this system.”

The code allows delegation of the inspection, testing, and maintenance of the system to qualified service personnel, but it remains the owner’s responsibility to ensure the system is maintained in a reliable condition. 

Wayne D. Moore is vice president at Jensen Hughes.