NFPA 72: History, Future, and Your Alarm Monitoring Purchasing

By Andrew Erickson

June 11, 2023

No matter what kind of property you have, understanding fire safety standards is essential. But let's face it, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards can be complex.

If you work with fire alarms and fire alarm monitoring, NFPA 72 in particular is important for you. You must have a reasonable working knowledge of the requirements and purchase listed equipment.

NFPA 72 has a Long History

From its inception in 1896, the NFPA has been on a continuous mission to eliminate death, injury, and property loss due to fire and electrical hazards. Over time, as technology advanced and the need for tighter security grew, the NFPA naturally evolved its standards. The purpose? To ensure a safe and secure environment for all building occupants.

Let's take the example of the NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. Initially introduced to regulate fire alarm systems, it has recently expanded to include mass notification systems, emergency communication systems, and even cybersecurity measures.

The Birth of NFPA 72

In 1896, the NFPA 72 was known as the "National Automatic Sprinkler and Fire Alarm Code." Its primary focus was to provide guidelines for the installation and maintenance of automatic sprinkler systems.

The inclusion of fire alarm systems was largely just a question of local alert bells at the time. Still, it laid the groundwork for all of the advancements that have happened since.

The 20th Century Adds New Technology

Over time, as technology advanced and new fire detection methodologies emerged, NFPA 72 necessarily adapted to include these techniques.

By the 1940s, the code had started to cover manual fire alarm systems, telegraph systems, and fire brigade stations.

In the 1980s, a significant change occurred when the code began to address application, installation, location, performance, inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire alarm systems. This major change expanded its scope beyond just automatic systems.

The Information Age Makes Central Stations More Common

As we approached the year 2000, NFPA 72 had another important shift.

Recognizing the critical role that alarm monitoring services play in fire safety, the NFPA incorporated guidelines for supervising station alarm systems (central monitoring stations).

For the uninitiated, a central station is a facility that monitors signals from security systems, including fire alarm systems, in various locations.

The reason for the NFPA’s focus on central stations is simple. Having a dedicated station that continuously monitors for alarm signals ensures a quick response to any fire outbreak.

NFPA 72 outlines specific requirements for central stations in terms of staffing, facilities, and operations.

Remember that you can also monitor your own fire alarms in compliance with NFPA 72. This is a good option for medium and large multi-building facilities like military bases, university campuses, cities, and prisons. This is called "proprietary alarm monitoring" as opposed to a central station.

The Internet and Mass Digitalization Evolves the Industry Beyond Classic Dialer Boxes

In the 2010 edition, NFPA 72 embraced the digital age in a big way. It introduced guidelines for mass notification systems (MNS).

This change was largely a response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The NFPA recognized the need for effective emergency communication systems in times of crisis.

The code now provides standards for the application, installation, location, performance, and maintenance of MNS and emergency communications systems (ECS).

Even more recently, in the 2019 edition, the code expanded further into the realm of emergency communications strategies. There is now even a rule set for addressing cybersecurity for fire alarm systems.

When an organization is effectively the only provider of any product (including a fire code), it's all too common for that organization to get lazy or complacent. The evolution of NFPA 72 even within the last several years demonstrates that the NFPA is not falling into this trap.

What's Next for NFPA 72 in 2025 and Beyond?

Today, the NFPA 72 is a comprehensive document that covers everything from traditional fire alarms to complex emergency communication systems.

Its ongoing evolution reflects a readiness to adapt and respond to new technology, societal changes, and lessons learned from past incidents. All safety codes, to some degree, are learning literally earned through the unfortunate loss of human life. Capturing these lessons and applying them to the future is supremely important.

As we look to the future, we can expect NFPA 72 to continue evolving to provide increasingly perfect fire safety and emergency response standards. The ultimate goal remains unchanged since 1896: to eliminate death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards.

Looking to the Future: Your Next Fire Alarm System

For those considering a new fire alarm system, an understanding of the NFPA's evolution reveals a broader context. It's not just about choosing a system. You must align with a code that evolves to offer the best protection. You must attempt to future-proof your purchase decisions as much as possible.

As I described, a key part of your overall system is one of two options:

  • A central station with a proven track record of reliability, quick response, and adherence to NFPA regulations. A good central station must be a worthy partner during emergency situations.
  • A proprietary alarm monitoring system that allows you to monitor your own fire alarms and make fast dispatch decisions (Prism LX or similar device). When you choose this option, your monitoring device manufacture must be a partner for you. Customization of the system to suit your needs is a huge bonus for both current and future compatibility with third-party FACPs and other devices.

You're allowed to choose either of the two options under NFPA 72. Generally, a proprietary system offers more control over your monitoring if you have a large enough grouping of buildings to justify the initial equipment purchase. It also eliminates recurring fees paid to central stations.

Talk to Digitize about Your Fire Alarm Project

No matter what you're trying to do with fire alarms, a fast call with a Digitize engineer is a great place to start. We manufacture proprietary fire alarm systems, and our work has given us broad experience with many aspects of fire alarms. We'll have the information you need or point you in the right direction quickly.

Give us a call 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