FOCUS | FIRE
When I consult on installations, I find contractors make some of the
most common mistakes in the realm of notification appliances. For new
system installations, the designer has usually specified the candela ratings for visible appliances and the correct location of horns and speakers,
including the required tap setting for the speakers.
Hopefully, you and your supplier have determined the right quantity
of notification appliances based on the design drawings, but if your technicians fail to follow the design drawings that clearly indicate specific
candela ratings for visible notification appliances or the required power
tap settings for speakers, your installation may have a problem passing
an acceptance test.
Noncompliance with the design drawing can cost a great deal of
time and money. You will have to remove every speaker and strobe
to correct the settings and then reinstall them. You cannot blame the
authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) for finding your mistakes. Remember, when it comes to notification appliances, the code has some
The code bases the visible appliance candela ratings on the geometry of each space. Stay out of trouble by following the tables provided
in Chapter 18. In addition, both the horn and loudspeaker notification
appliances must meet performance requirements. The code requires a
minimum audibility level and a minimum level of intelligibility. Obviously, the fire alarm system designer must ensure the design meets those
requirements. But, if you fail to follow the design layout, the system
will likely fail the AHJ inspection, and you will lose valuable profits.
Another issue involves you and your supplier. Some knowledgeable
person must program all new systems to operate as specified—in accordance with the operational matrix or design narrative—and to have
the correct device labels for the project. If you fail to get this information
to your supplier in a timely fashion, you will delay the building occupancy.
Programming takes longer than a few minutes, and many contractors
do not understand that they must completely install the system before
programming can begin.
If you don’t inform your supplier, you will experience the fun that be-
gins during the acceptance test, which consists of all of the necessary
programming changes. It is one more reason for project delays and the
loss of money and reputation.
In addition to the programming assistance you need from your
supplier, another concern arises from the age-old issue of technical
assistance. You often assume that you and your technicians know everything necessary about installing a fire alarm system. Because you
don’t want to pay for technical assistance, you tell the supplier you
can get along without it. Then, when the system is nearly complete
and not working, you call the supplier to troubleshoot the equipment;
after all, the problem can’t be your installation, right? When the supplier wants to get paid for his time, you do not want to pay it. This will
create friction. By the time I arrive on the scene to witness the system
testing, I find that the work on the system has not made it ready for
Speaking of the acceptance tests, you would not believe how many
times I am asked when I arrive for a 100 percent pre-acceptance, “How
much do you want me to test?” I can’t help but think, “What part of ‘ 100
percent’ don’t you understand?”
The code requires the complete testing of the fire alarm system after
its initial installation. There are a number of reasons for this, but, if noth-
ing else, remember that you may find yourself in court where you will
have to raise your right hand and tell a jury what type of testing and how
much of it you conducted on the fire alarm system once you completed it.
For every installation you do, think carefully about how you would answer
that question. You may want to argue that, if the fire alarm system control
unit indicates “normal” by the illumination of the proper indicator, your
installation will work properly when called on to do so.
Making certain that you have wired all fire alarm system devices and
appliances provides another reason you should conduct a complete fire
alarm system acceptance test. I assume you understand the concept of
monitoring for integrity, what the fire alarm system control unit actually
monitors, and how an improper connection can defeat that monitoring.
First, you should know that the control unit does not monitor the
individual devices and appliances for proper operation. So, to ensure
they work, you have to test them! In fact, the monitoring of the circuit
integrity just ensures that no opens, shorts or grounds have occurred on
the circuit wiring. Monitoring for integrity really only ensures that the
devices and appliances remain connected. It does not assure that they
will work. That assurance will only come from complete operational testing of every device and appliance.
I also find many instances where contractors will T-Tap devices on
Class A circuits in such a way that the control unit simply cannot moni-
tor the integrity of every branch connection, hence the reason for testing
circuits, devices and appliances for proper operation and supervision.
Just as you know that the installation of a fire alarm system can
become very hard work, so you will find that having to carefully read,
understand and follow the requirements of the code is also difficult. But,
this preperation ensures you have done your job properly.
Maybe reading and understanding the code is too much like work.
Maybe that is why so many contractors constantly miss opportunities to
profitably install code-compliant fire alarm systems. It’s a shame to see
all that profit go unclaimed.
EDITOR’S NOTE: in the Fire Focus, August 2015 issue, this sentence should have used the word “maximum” in place of “
minimum”: “The prescriptive portion of the code requires smoke
detectors on smooth ceilings to be placed a minimum of 30 feet
on center [between detectors] and 15 feet from a sidewall.”
MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent
speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a principal
member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. Moore is a
vice president with Jensen Hughes at the Warwick, R.I., office. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed
in overalls and looks like work.” —Thomas A. Edison
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