Your Guide to NFPA 72 Fundamentals

By Andrew Erickson

April 16, 2023

Fire is a serious threat that can cause devastating consequences. It's essential to take precautions to prevent fires from happening and to have a reliable fire alarm system in place.

This is where the National Fire Alarm & Signaling Code (NFPA 72) comes in. Let's discuss the importance of complying with the NFPA 72 and the major parts and requirements of the code.

Why is it important to comply with the NFPA 72?

NFPA 72 provides guidelines and standards for the design, installation, and maintenance of fire alarm systems.

Complying with these guidelines ensures that the fire alarm system is reliable and meets the necessary safety requirements. It also ensures that the system is compatible with other life safety systems and devices, such as sprinkler systems and emergency lighting.

Failure to comply with NFPA 72 can result in legal consequences and insurance-related issues. It may also put the safety of occupants and property at risk. That makes it essential to comply with NFPA 72 and have a reliable fire alarm system in place.

Major Parts and Requirements of the NFPA 72

NFPA 72 has several major conceptual sections, including:

  1. Fundamentals: This section includes general information about fire alarm systems, including system types, system components, and documentation requirements.
  2. Initiating Devices: This section covers requirements for devices that detect smoke, heat, and other fire-related conditions.
  3. Notification Devices: This section covers requirements for devices that alert occupants of a fire, such as alarms, horns, and strobes.
  4. Fire Alarm Control Units: This section covers requirements for the main control panel of the fire alarm system.
  5. Power Supplies: This section covers requirements for the power source of the fire alarm system.
  6. Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance: This section covers requirements for the ongoing maintenance of the fire alarm system to ensure that it is functioning properly.

NFPA 72 is Highly Detailed

It's beyond the scope of this article to cover the entirety of NFPA 72, but it's important that you understand just how detailed it is.

To do that, let's look at the 18th chapter of NFPA 72, which covers notification appliances. These appliances are responsible for alerting building occupants to the presence of a fire and instructing them on what to do next. In short, they provide critical information during an emergency.

Chapter 18 states that the performance, location, and mounting of notification appliances must comply with this chapter. In addition, all notification appliances used in accordance with Chapter 18 must be listed for the purpose for which they are used.

It's important to note that notification appliances must be built to withstand their specific installation environments. For example, if you're installing an appliance in a high-temperature area, you need to choose one that is designed for that environment.

NFPA 72 also dictates the sound level, evacuation signals, and placement requirements for notification appliances. It's interesting to note that there is actually a maximum sound level allowed for these appliances, based on science that balances the need for prompt notification with the goal of avoiding hearing damage.

Your Need to Collect Alarms in a Central Location

There are two general methods you can use to monitor your fire alarm system:

  • With a third-party central station, or
  • With an in-house system.

With the third-party central station, the alarms are sent to an outside company that specializes in monitoring alarms. With an in-house system, the alarms stay within your facility (and you monitor them yourself with your own team).

Sending your fire alarms to a third party can be good for small facilities. They will monitor alarms at all times and make sure they are working, but you have to pay that company every month. For smaller facilities, this can be superior to paying up-front for a central monitoring server and staffing a 7x24 monitoring room.

For larger scenarios like college campuses or military bases, it's usually best to do things in-house. You'll gain total control over your fire alarm monitoring. You can also spread the fixed cost of a monitoring server and staffing a monitoring center across a larger number of buildings and people.

As you can see, NFPA fire codes have "thought of everything" by updating themselves after deadly incidents or close calls. They are the finely honed collectively wisdom of how to keep people as safe as possible in a building.

Yes, there is always room for improvement. There will be new incidents and new improvements to NFPA 72. Still, your compliance today will yield important safety benefits tomorrow and every day afterward.

Where to Get Professional Help and Recommendations

Designing and installing a fire alarm system can be a complex and challenging task. Therefore, it's essential to seek professional help and recommendations when preparing to buy a fire alarm system.

Fire alarm system professionals can provide advice on the right type of system for your building, as well as help you navigate the requirements of NFPA 72. They can also help you design, install, and maintain your system to ensure compliance with the code.

There are many companies who are professionals in this space, and your organization may already have a designated expert you can contact.

Since you're here already, remember another option you have for help...

Digitize is ready to help you launch your project

At Digitize, we manufacture central fire alarm monitoring servers and mediation accessories for legacy compatibility. If you're researching NFPA 72, there's a good chance that our systems can help you.

Even if that's not true, our engineers are available to share their experience with you. This can be a great way to get started on your project. Even a 15-minute conversation with an expert at the beginning can cut hours and days from your ultimate project timeline.

In some cases, we'll have exactly what you need. Other times, we'll have to direct to you another resource. In any case, we'll gladly point your in the right direction to get your project off on the right foot.

To have a quick chat about what you're trying to accomplish, call Digitize at 1-800-523-7232 or email

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