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

In Compliance | NFPA 72

System documentation and ensuring reliable fire alarm system operation


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For most of the last century, national signaling standards have included requirements to document the installation details of fire alarm systems. The National Board of Fire Underwriters, for example, included the following requirement in the 1920 edition of NBFU 72, Section 1c: “Full information as required by the Insurance Department having jurisdiction shall be furnished to and plans approved by it before the installation of devices and equipment is begun.”

More recently, documentation information has been included in NFPA 72 since its inception as the National Fire Alarm Code in 1993, and currently exists as a chapter in the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. Revisions have occurred as the technical committee received comments from the field describing missing information that designers and installers needed to include to help ensure fire alarm system reliability.

The technical committee did not want to overburden all system installations with extensive documentation, believing that the documentation for a system installed in a convenience store should not be as extensive as that for a system installed in a 20-story high rise. For this reason, only the minimum documentation requirements of 7.2.1 apply to all fire alarm systems installed or modified. However, other chapters, or as required by other laws, codes, standards, and authorities having jurisdiction, may include more stringent documentation requirements.

The 2019 edition of NFPA 72 contains new documentation requirements that apply to all new or modified fire alarm systems. The first addition relates to system design and designers. Paragraph states that “when a design professional is preparing design documents that will incorporate new or modifications to a fire alarm or emergency communication system covered by this Code, preliminary bid documents shall be prepared in accordance with Section 7.3.” Additionally, Paragraph states that “the design professional shall be qualified to prepare fire alarm design documents in accordance with 10.5.1.”

The next two new requirements relate to fire alarm system design. Paragraph requires that all design documents incorporate the appropriate performance criteria to ensure that the fire alarm system will provide a beneficial component to the fire and life safety needs of the owner, occupants, and authority having jurisdiction. Paragraph requires that all design documents clearly communicate the intended performance and functionality expected by all installing contractors to ensure a smooth system installation.

The annex to Subsection 7.3.3 provides new guidance for some of the key issues a designer should include in the documentation when locating detection devices and notification appliances on preliminary drawings. Their location should comply with the standards, listings, and limitations of the equipment specified. In addition, the designer should include a note on the drawings and specifications directing that the spacing should comply with the device or appliance listing(s) and NFPA 72.

Additionally, the same annex material suggests that “the architect/engineer preparing bid documents should not simply require a contractor to install a fire alarm system in accordance with codes, but rather outline the intended minimum performance criteria to be achieved in accordance with Section 7.3, with guidance from A.7.3.3.”

The last new requirement to Chapter 7 in the 2019 edition of the code is intended to ensure intelligibility of all emergency communications systems (ECS) as outlined in Chapter 24. Paragraph references the requirements in Chapter 18 as it relates to acoustically distinguishable spaces and requires the design professional to coordinate with other design disciplines to achieve the intelligibility of messages utilizing the emergency communications equipment as specified in the design documents and available to the installer of the ECS.

I have included only the new requirements and a few of the new additions to the Annex A of the chapter. Chapter 7 intends to improve the operational reliability of fire alarm systems by ensuring that designers and installers understand the requirements they must meet.

Remember, until the designers and installers provide complete documentation, we cannot consider the project complete.

WAYNE D. MOORE is vice president at Jensen Hughes.