Example of NFPA 72 Being Applied to a City Government Fire Alarm Project

By Andrew Erickson

June 18, 2023

In an unassuming city department, an employee found himself staring at a new assignment. His task was to install a fire alarm system that complied with NFPA 72 - the National Fire Protection Association's code for fire alarm and signaling.

At first glance, the task was daunting. The fire code was full of unfamiliar terms and acronyms. Taking a deep breath, he began his research.

Gathering Information Resources

His first step was to gather resources. He first turned to the most reliable and official information resource: the NFPA website itself. There, he downloaded the most recent version of NFPA 72, ensuring his knowledge was up to date. Even if his city had not purchased access to the fire code, it's still possible to read the code for free at NFPA.org.

Our diligent employee also printed out a comprehensive list of common acronyms used in fire safety regulations from the Digitize blog.

On his desk, he laid out his tools. Unlike a normal day that would commonly involve wrenches and screwdrivers, he had an array of printed documents, guidelines, and lists.

Studying Builds Familiarity

Next up was a fairly intensive study period. He started by skimming the whole NFPA 72 document, making sure to highlight any unfamiliar terms or acronyms.

Whenever he came across one, he would pause, consult his list, and make a note of what it meant. From AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) to CO (Carbon Monoxide; a fairly common expression) to FACU (Fire Alarm Control Unit), he became increasingly fluent in the language of fire safety.

Certain Basic Elements are Required for Any Fire Alarm System

The provisions of NFPA 72, although vast, began to make sense to him as he delved deeper. He discovered the guidelines on initiating devices, notification appliances, and the requirement for the fire alarm system to be installed in accordance with the manufacturer's published instructions. This was all based on the guidelines laid out in Chapter 10 of NFPA 72.

Redundancy is Key

The document also emphasized the need for the system to be designed in such a way that any failure or removal of a notification appliance would not impair the operation of the system.

Redundancy is required in any high-reliability application, from aviation to rock climbing to the power grid. Fire safety is no less important. Redundancy is a particular focus in Chapter 12, which covers circuits and pathways.

Inspection, Testing, & Maintenance are Required a Regular Intervals

Next, he looked at Chapter 14, which was about inspection, testing, and maintenance. This chapter requires a proscribed regular schedule of inspection and maintenance to ensure the system is in working order at all times.

Before designing the system, he chalked out a tentative schedule for regular inspections, tests, and maintenance activities, according to the guidelines in Chapter 14. This would be something he would refine as the actual system architecture came together.

It Was Time to Start the Design Phase!

Keeping all of this in mind, the employee set about designing the system. He chose initiating devices such as smoke detectors and manual pull stations that complied with the provisions in Chapter 17, ensuring that they met the required spacing and location standards. Some of the spacing standards were surprising, incorporating variables like ceiling height that dictate lateral spacing.

For notification appliances, he chose auditory devices like horns and visual devices like strobe lights, which conformed to Chapter 18's regulations about audibility and visibility.

The employee selected a Fire Alarm Control Unit that complied with the requirements laid out in Chapter 23. He was required to choose an FACU had the capability to identify and alert when a component of the system failed or was removed.

He then documented everything meticulously and submitted the design and plans to the AHJ for approval.

This Project was a Major Learning Experience

From unfamiliar acronyms to intricate regulations, our trusty city employee had come to understand and even appreciate the complexities of NFPA 72. When he finally completed his assignment, he felt more than just a sense of accomplishment.

He had a new understanding of the importance of his work – ensuring safety and saving lives. His job might have been complex, but he knew it was worth it.

Evaluating Central Stations for Remote Alarm Monitoring

Following the development of the fire alarm system, this employee turned his attention to monitoring solutions. He began with a thorough evaluation of several commercial central stations.

One by one, he evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of each service offering. He compared their features with the stringent requirements of NFPA 72, Chapter 26. As with any purchase decision, he obviously also compared the recurring fees to be paid to each central station for their 7x24 services.

He also investigated specifics like supervisory service, proprietary supervising stations, and remote supervising stations.

Although some of the following information isn't readily available on brochures and websites, he looked for evidence of:

  1. Reliability
  2. Backup power sources
  3. Fault detection
  4. Signal transmission
  5. The ability to distinguish between different types of alarms, troubles, and supervisory signals (both at the central station and when reported back to the city).

Proprietary Alarm Monitoring Looked Like a Better Option

While all the commercial options were decent, they came with ongoing fees that would add up over time. He wasn't entirely convinced any of them were the best solution and in the city's best interest.

In the midst of this research, he stumbled upon the Prism LX system from Digitize.

The concept of a proprietary alarm monitoring system immediately caught his attention. Instead of paying a third party and giving them responsibility for the city's fire alarms, the city would retain responsibility and control. They would owe no ongoing service fees to a central station. They'd use the Prism LX as an in-house monitoring tool with their own staff.

The Prism included a full front-panel LCD interface that could handle a large volume of alarm data, from the status of a single smoke detector to the whole system's overall functioning. Additionally, it allowed for personalized system configurations and came with modern reporting capabilities.

Crucially, as a "proprietary alarm monitoring" option, the Prism LX also provided the ability for the city to monitor its fire alarms independently, reducing reliance on external entities and avoiding ongoing fees. His city's budget, always tight, would see long-term benefit from such an arrangement.

Evaluating the Prism LX System

Although the product looked promising, this employee wasn't going to jump to conclusions. He spent plenty of time learning about the Prism LX, reaching out to other users for their reviews. He also contacted Digitize for technical specifications.

After gaining a comprehensive understanding of the system, he compared it once again to NFPA 72's provisions. To his relief, Prism LX satisfied all the requirements.

One of the most attractive features of the Prism LX system was its extensive and automated record-keeping capability (compliant with Chapter 26 of NFPA 72).

Finally, after weeks of intense research and evaluation, the employee decided on the Prism LX system. It met all the compliance requirements. It also offered independence, cost-effectiveness, and advanced monitoring capabilities.

His fire alarm project, from the system to monitoring, was finally complete, fulfilling all the demands of the NFPA 72. With the Prism LX system in place, his city was now that much safer during fire emergencies.

Talk with a Digitize Engineer About Your Fire Alarm Project

The story above is synthesized from many of the experiences that Digitize has had with our clients during our 46-year history. We've a huge range of people contact us during the planning stages of their remote alarm monitoring. We also have general familiarity with NFPA.

No matter what you're working on related to fire alarm systems, just call us to speak with an expert. We promise to either take care of you directly or point you in the right direction for your next step.

Call Digitize at 1-800-523-7232 or email info@digitize-inc.com

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 17 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and...Read More