NFPA 72: Overview of National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (Chapters 11-14)
By Andrew Erickson
August 23, 2022
Continuing from my previous introduction to Chapters 1-10 , let's dig deeper now into the code that sets the requirements for all automatic fire detection and fire protection systems.
Chapter 11: Cybersecurity
This incredibly simple chapter simply dictates that "cybersecurity shall be provided" as required by laws, codes, or standards.
What exactly that means is up to those laws, codes, and standards. Chapter 11 merely grants authority to those external entities.
Chapter 12: Circuits and Pathways
"Pathways" are interconnections between the elements required by the alarm and signaling code. You can think of pathways as wires, radio signals, optical fiber cables, and any other connector between devices.
The NFPA 72 code that lays out the guidelines that all modern fire alarms must follow.
Imagine that you have an initiating device that detects a fire. That's the start of a critical path of information. If the detection of a fire can never be broadcast from the point of initiation, then you don't really have a system that can be classified as warning equipment at all.
Chapter 13: Reserved (for future use)
This is yet another chapter that is unused to allow space for future expansion
Chapter 14: Inspection, Testing, & Maintenance
This is a frequently referenced chapter, simply because it does not require an inciting incident to be useful. No matter how often fires do or do not occur, you are still obligated to inspect, test, and maintain on the schedule dictated here.
From the Digitize perspective, there's one section in particular that's pretty interesting:
188.8.131.52.1 Inspection, testing, and maintenance programs shall satisfy the requirements of this Code and conform to the equipment manufacturer's published instructions.
As a manufacturer of proprietary central fire alarm monitoring systems, it's nice to see that we're given such respect in the code. We've done this for a very long time, and our documentation and usage instructions reflect a lot of learning we've earned in 45+ years.
Whether you're using equipment purchased from Digitize or anywhere else, the 2022 edition of NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (and presumably many future editions, too) requires you to follow manufacturer instructions. That's the only plan that makes any sense.
The front page of the System 3505 Prism LX manual, which is an important step in installing a compliant fire alarm monitoring system using this particular central data collector.
Early in Chapter 14, in section 14.2.3, your "Responsibilities" are spelled out.
The property or building or system owner or the owner's designated representative shall be responsible for inspection, testing, and maintenance of the system and for alterations or additions to this system.
Section 184.108.40.206 does allow for third-party inspections to be conducted on your behalf if you have a written contractual agreement.
This sort of thing is common if you use a distributor to design, install, and/or inspect your system. For example, Digitize has a strong relationship with RB Allen in New England that you can use for inspections required under NFPA 72. They're certainly "qualified and experienced" as required in "220.127.116.11 Service Personnel Qualifications and Experience".
Section 14.2.4 covers Notification:
18.104.22.168 Before proceeding with any testing, all persons and facilities receiving alarm, supervisory, or trouble signals and all building occupants shall be notified of the testing to prevent unnecessary response.
If you've worked in an office building for any appreciable time, you've surely dealt with this one. I can recall many times in my years at work that I've heard a PA announcement: "The fire alarm system will be tested now. Do not react to the alarms until after we announce that testing is complete."
This implies that testing should be kept as short as possible, since building occupants must necessarily lower their guard during the testing period. Fortunately, in my experience, the fire department or some type of fire-safety professional is on-site during such testing, so I would hope a proper reaction could be mounted if an actual fire occurred.
Testing of the alert system commonly includes setting off artificial alerts using manual initiating devices (traditional pull handles) and automatic initiating devices (smoke detectors and heat detectors). I've also witnessed pressure tests of fire sprinkler piping, but that is not the alarm system and is covered by a different NFPA code.
On Page "72-88", the code includes something new. It switches from long paragraphs of text to a handy reference table. This describes how various elements of the fire alarm system must be monitored. A periodic frequency and method of inspection are both listed for each component.
The DGM (Data Gathering Module) 32/64 (pictured above) is one of Digitize's units that brings alarms from FACP into Prism LX.
You should take note of 22.214.171.124 in the event you make any change to system hardware. When you do that, the Code treats the new equipment like it has never been tested. In spirit, that's true. The system as it now exists truly has never been tested.
As a result, you're obligated to perform an inspection very soon after making such a change. This is also true when site-specific software is modified, as called out in 14..4.2.4
Section 126.96.36.199 has an excellent allowance for automation vs. laborious manual testing that is laborious and susceptible to human error:
188.8.131.52 If automatic testing is performed at least weekly by a remotely monitored fire alarm control unit specifically listed for the application, the manual testing frequency shall be permitted to be extended to annually.
This really speaks to the value of remote monitoring systems of all kinds. With good remote monitoring and testing in place, you can be more assured that your fire alarms are operational while actually spending fewer budget dollars on testing.
Chapter 14 ends with the multi-page Table 184.108.40.206 covering further testing requirements. Included in this table are testing frequencies and methods for even more components. You'll find listings for supervising station alarm systems and alarm notification appliances, among many others.
Give me a call to discuss your NFPA 72 obligations
If you're installing a fire alarm system, you have to follow the code. There's almost no end to what I could write about the code, but that wouldn't really be helpful. If you want to get overwhelmed, you can always view the raw NFPA code online yourself.
In my experience in this industry, what you need is a quick call with an expert to find your bearings. Once you get started and understand the basics, you can then get great utility out of the Code by using it as a reference.
So, the next best thing you can do is give Digitize a call at 1-800-523-7232. You can also send email to email@example.com. We'll help you get your project off on the right foot.
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