BY WAYNE D. MOORE
M AN Y TECH NICIA N S new to the fire/life safety field perform fire alarm system installations. For these technicians,
the code and the equipment they intend to install look ominous.
Let’s assume a technician must install a new system in accordance
with someone else’s design. To start, every technician must invest in a
copy of NFPA 72 2016, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. The code
contains the nuts-and-bolts requirements that a technician needs to complete a code-compliant fire alarm system installation.
For the next step, let’s apply the code to a hypothetical structure: a
five-story hotel with residential, assembly and retail components. The
design documents include engineering specifications and drawings of the
proposed system. We need to look at the drawings for the locations and
number of devices and appliances that will make up the system. We also
need to look to the specifications for the requirements, which determine
any specific products the designer has chosen.
The building will have manual fire alarm stations at each exit on each
level of the four-story residential portion. We will need to install additional
manual fire alarm stations at each exit of the first-level stores (mercantile
occupancy). The one assembly portion of the building, designed to hold
400 occupants, will have a manual fire alarm station at each of its exits.
The assembly space can be divided into three equal spaces with exits
at the front and back of each portion. Each portion will have a manual fire
alarm station at each of its exits.
An automatic sprinkler system will protect the building. The waterflow
switch and associated supervisory devices in the basement must connect
to the fire alarm system. In addition, the owner has requested smoke
detectors spaced throughout the residential floors, hallways, stores and
assembly space. Furthermore, the specifications require each hotel room
to have a system-connected smoke detector with a sounder base. The
building fire alarm system connects to a supervising station using radio
and by a digital alarm communicator transmitter.
That gives us a good idea about the building, so the technician must
research the devices to be installed. Chapter 17 provides installation requirements for all initiating devices, such as manual fire alarm boxes,
smoke detectors, sprinkler waterflow switches and sprinkler gate valve
supervisory switches. The code specifies the following for manual fire
alarm pull stations:
• They must be mounted securely (a back box is needed—required by
• They must be mounted on a background of contrasting color.
• They must be mounted at a height so that someone can reach the
operable part of the device at not less than 42 inches nor more than
48 inches from the finished floor.
• They must be installed to remain conspicuous, unobstructed and
• They must be red.
• They must be located within 5 feet of each exit doorway on each floor.
• They must be located so that the travel distance to the nearest manual
fire alarm box will not exceed 200 feet, measured horizontally on the
Improperly installed and maintained smoke detectors can cause nui-
sance alarms, so technicians must ensure the detectors are placed in the
correct environments or locations. Technicians must read all code require-
ments that relate to smoke detector installation.
The basic requirements for smoke detector installation on smooth,
level, unobstructed ceilings that do not exceed 10–12 feet high include
• Where detectors are installed but not operational during construction,
they must be protected from construction debris, dust, dirt and damage
in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
• Spot-type smoke detectors must be located on the ceiling or, if on a
side wall, between the ceiling and 12 inches down from the ceiling to
the top of the detector.
Generally, the plans will show the smoke detector layout. But when the
plans do not, technicians must follow these code requirements:
• The distance between smoke detectors must not exceed a nominal
spacing of 30 feet, and there must be detectors within a distance of
one-half the nominal spacing, measured at right angles from all walls
or partitions extending upward to within the top 15 percent of the
• All points on the ceiling must have a detector within a distance equal
to or less than 0.7 times the nominal 30-foot spacing (0.7S).
When ceilings do not meet the definition for smooth, level and un-
obstructed, the code has specific requirements to address all types of
ceilings and ceiling heights.
Once technicians have understood the installation requirements, they
need to review the code requirements for the notification appliances in
FOCUS | FIRE