NFPA 72: Overview of National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (Chapters 1-10)

By Andrew Erickson

August 21, 2022

NFPA 72 (National Fire Alarm & Signaling Code) is the code that dictates everything that a modern fire alarm needs to be. At times, codes like this can be annoying and confusing. Still, they obviously serve a massively important purpose.

The code has evolved for over 100 years based on hard-won lessons from historical fires. By learning to understand the code and follow it properly, you're protecting life safety.

To help you in that mission, I've written this overview to get you started. It's likely that you arrived here with a project in mind. This reference will help you locate the section of the code you need. You might also just give us a call here at Digitize to speak with an engineer (which is a free call). It's up to you.

Okay! Let's start walking through the chapters of the 2022 Edition of NFPA 72.

The NFPA National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code ("72") establishes standards for all fire protection systems.

Chapters 1-3: Administration, Reference Publications, & Definitions

These chapters aren't something you'll commonly reference unless you're studying the code for the first time or making some kind of precise decision. This is very similar to what I wrote about NFPA 1 (Chapter 1-10) in an earlier article.

Chapter 1 is really just about setting the stage for the general structure of the rest of the code. You'll read about the different classifications of alarm systems and emergency communication systems.

Chapter 2 is simply other code or standard documents that are externally referenced within NFPA 72. If you encounter one of those references as you go through each chapter, Chapter 2 tells you where you can find that referenced document.

Chapters 4-6: Reserved (for Future Use)

This is simply another set of "housekeeping" chapters. The only current purpose of Chapters 4, 5, & 6 is to be available for fundamental chapters that become necessary later.

Imagine the massive headache if adding an early chapter caused all later chapters (currently up to Chapter 29) to change numbering. Everything that had been previously written about such chapters, including this article, would suddenly have a broken numbering system.

That's why the authors of the NFPA fire codes have implemented this best practice. As it stands, up to 3 additional chapters can be inserted here without disrupting the number flow of any subsequent chapters.

Chapter 7: Documentation

Without some kind of tracking and enforcement, national fire protection codes would be quite toothless in the real world. That's why:

7.1.1 The documentation of the design, acceptance, and completion of new (fire alarm or other) systems required under this Code shall comply with the minimum requirements of this chapter.

7.1.2 requires similar documentation regarding any change made to existing systems.

One thing that I did not expect on my first read through the code was the requirement to have a "written narrative providing intent and system description" ( I certainly expected "Riser diagram" and "Floor plan layout" as dictated in &, but I was pleasantly surprised to see some required statement of the intent of the system.

The design of alarm and signaling systems can start to feel like a chore where you mindlessly check off required items. That's why it's good to have some kind of description of the overall design of the system and the goals it will achieve.

Section 7.3: Design (Layout) Documentation

Interestingly, this section is very dependent on the governing laws in your local area, plus other code/specification requirements, as spelled out in 7.3.1:

7.3.1 The requirements of Section 7.3 shall apply only where required by other governing laws, codes, or standards; by other parts of this Code, or by project specifications or drawings.

Section 7.4: Shop Drawings (Installation Documentation)

As opposed to focusing on the system design, which is covered in 7.3, this section takes the next step in the process: installation. The documentation you'll create to satisfy this section is about whether or not that system design got installed correctly.

Section 7.5: Completion

The documentation required here ensures that the fire protection systems have been correctly installed and signed-off by local authorities.

Chapters 8-9: Reserved (for Future Use)

Just like Chapter 4-6, these two chapters are similarly reserved. These are two more chapter numbers that can be inserted into the code later instead of disrupting all later chapter numbers (or requiring an important chapter to be stuck at the end of the code).

Chapter 10: Fundamentals

This is where NFPA 72 (the national fire alarm code) really gets going. It's here that the fundamental required elements of a fire alarm system get described. Everything in the alarm flow, from initiating devices to notification appliances to mass notification systems are covered here, albeit in a general way. Later chapters will expand on the basics that are listed here.

The Digitize Multiplex System
In tandem with this Multiplex System, you can configure mass notification systems to work across all types of networks.

Initiating devices are covered in 10.4.6. As you may know if you've read my previous blog about fire systems components, these devices can be either manual (ex. pull boxes) or automatic (ex. smoke detectors).

The "fundamentals" here go beyond just equipment. Programming personnel, including their permit requirements, are covered by

10.5.5 concerns supervising station alarm systems. It is here that requirements for Supervising Station Operators are listed.

Deeper into Chapter 10, many pages are devoted to the backup electrical power requirements for fire alarms. Obviously, during a destructive event like a major fire, electrical wiring is a risk. You can't afford to have fire alarms go down when you need them most. Pathway survivability (having signal wires that resist fire) has no value if the reporting system doesn't have power in the first place.

Because some systems are remotely located and require remote access, backup power supplies for such equipment are discussed in 10.6.8.

A subcomponent of backup power, storage batteries are covered in 10.6.10. This section dictates how stored batteries must be labeled so that their manufacturing date is known. A battery can only be expected to work well for a defined time period after it is manufactured, so this section ensures that battery replacement decisions can be made.

Chapter 10 also includes requirements for "Annunciation Zoning" (10.18.5), such that multiple significant areas of a building each have their own annunciation system. This avoids a single point of failure, where a single annunciator failure could potentially shut down the alert mechanism for a very large segment.

The interplay with emergency services is also called out in 10.18.6. Like you see a lot in this text, this section of the code includes mainly references to external authorities. Whoever you intend to respond to your alarms (ex. fire department), you must then follow their rules for the technology interfaces you expect them to use.

What are you trying to accomplish with NFPA 72?

Look, this stuff is complicated. If you've made it this far into my overview of Chapters 1-10, you're probably working on some kind of important project.

This might be your first project, and it might not. No matter how long you've been doing this, I guarantee you that our Digitize engineers can help you.

We manufacture a central fire alarm system, but we'll help you with our industry experience even if you use a third-party service or another manufacturer's hardware.

To play "stump the fire alarm expert" related to NFPA 72, just give us a call at 1-800-523-7232. You can also send a quick email to

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 16 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and...Read More