BY THOMAS P. HAMMERBERG
DOES YOUR FIRE ALARM SYSTEM PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS?
We all know fire protection is a lot more
than a fire alarm or a sprinkler system. In many
buildings, the fire alarm is integrated with other
systems for the purpose of making the building
safer. Who ensures all of the systems perform
NFPA 4, Standard for Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing, went
into effect in 2015. It is the result of splitting
NFPA 3 into two documents. NFPA 3 remains a
Recommended Practice (Commissioning of Fire
Protection and Life Safety Systems). NFPA 4 is
important because it contains requirements for
the end-to-end testing of integrated fire protection and life safety systems. The challenge now
is to get integrated testing requirements into the
codes with a reference to NFPA 4. Until that happens, few, if any, authorities having jurisdiction
(AHJs) will use NFPA 4.
Proposals to add requirements for integrated
testing have been accepted for NFPA 101, Life
Safety Code; NFPA 1, Uniform Fire Code; and
NFPA 909, Code for the Protection of Cultural
Resource Properties. Proposals have been submitted to the International Code Council’s (ICC)
International Fire Code, but they will not be voted
on until the end of April 2016. If these proposals are accepted, our building and fire codes will
Correct end-to-end operation of all integrated fire protection and life safety systems needs
to be verified prior to occupancy and periodically
over the life of the systems. Since some systems
are simple integrations, such as a fire sprinkler
system connected to a fire alarm system, all of
NFPA 4’s requirements may not be necessary.
However, for large, complex system integrations,
it is imperative. For example, one NFPA 4 requirement is to have an integrated testing agent.
This individual would be responsible for coordinating testing between multiple contractors to
ensure the systems work together as they are
supposed to. There will also be a requirement
for retesting the interconnections in the future.
No time frame has been set at this point, but
NFPA 4 states that, if the retesting is not going
to be done within five years, the test plan must
provide a risk analysis to determine the appro-
priate testing interval. Again, the more systems
that are integrated, the more important it be-
comes to verify their interoperation.
In the past, people assumed the fire alarm
contractor would perform the bulk of integrated
system testing, even though NFPA 72 never ex-
plicitly required it. The problem is liability. When
I was a contractor, I would not touch equipment
that I did not install. You break it; you bought it.
Now, NFPA 72 has made it clear that the respon-
sibility of the fire alarm contractor ends at the
interconnection to the other systems.
Another problem is the periodic testing fre-
quency of the other equipment does not always
coincide with the fire-alarm-initiating device. For
example, smoke dampers installed in hospitals
are required to be tested only once every six
years, while the smoke detectors that operate
the dampers must be tested annually.
So, why the big fuss about this? As we all
know, today’s installations are always fast-
tracked, the bid goes to the lowest bidder and
you can’t get change orders. Right?
As I recall, the most common comment on
a construction site is, “That’s not my job.” So,
unless someone is diligent enough to ensure
everything works as intended, integrated test-
ing may be sporadic at best. It depends on the
contractors involved, the level of involvement by
the designer and the AHJ, and the time allowed
to finish the job. I believe NFPA 4, if properly
enforced, will be a great improvement for life
safety. If there is a fire and something doesn’t
work right, all of the parties will hear from vic-
tims’ attorneys. NFPA 4 provides a means to
ensure compliance and should reduce contrac-
This is also a good opportunity for fire alarm
contractors to increase revenue by being named
as the integrated testing agent by the owner.
Since the fire alarm system is the one that all
the others connect to, and since the fire alarm
system initiates the operation of most of the
other systems, it makes perfect sense.
This is a hot topic for 2016. Since both the
International Fire Code and NFPA 101 are in
their proposal stage and I am involved with
both groups to move this forward, I would be
interested in feedback. With your help, I believe
we can improve the reliability of fire protection
and life safety systems.
HAMMERBERG, SE T, CFPS is president of Hammerberg & Associates Inc. He
serves as the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (AFAA) Inc.’s technical director. Tom
represents AFAA on a number of NFPA committees. He is also a member of the ICC
Industry Advisory Committee. He can be reached TomHammerberg@gmail.com.