Understanding Your NFPA 72 Monitoring Requirements

By Andrew Erickson

March 12, 2023

"NFPA 72" is a popular research topic among professionals. You know that you have some responsibilities under the fire code to keep your organization compliant, but what are they?

In my work at Digitize (a manufacturer of fire alarm monitoring systems), NFPA 72 is something that I deal with constantly. I'm happy to share information with you as you work on your own project.

What does it mean to monitor a fire alarm system under NFPA 72?

Monitored fire alarm systems are a vital component of any modern building's safety protocol. There are, consequently, many important aspects of "fire alarm monitoring".

Modern systems can detect and report fires to both inhabitants in the area as well as local municipal authorities for quick response time. They're customizable through additional functions such as door closing or elevator suspension - ensuring maximum protection in an emergency.

Your building's network of initiating devices (sensors like as smoke or heat detectors, as well as manual pull handles) talk to a central fire alarm control panel (FACP). Depending on the building, you'll also likely have peripheral protection measures like sprinkler systems.

Alerts from the system reach some kind of central monitoring room, which is often mandatory under the law. The legal mandates are based on the requirements of NFPA 72, and the mere fact of government regulation tells you how important monitoring is for life safety.

What are the 4 types of "Emergency Forces Notification Arrangements" allowed under NFPA 72?

The NFPA and the International Business Code work together to ensure that commercial structures with legally required fire alarm systems receive effective monitoring.

According to the standards set by NFPA 72's National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, four approved types have been recognized:

  • Auxiliary fire alarm system: An auxiliary fire alarm system is a system that is directly connects to the overarching municipal fire alarm system. The idea is that your city is already monitoring manual pull boxes located on street corners. As an "auxiliary system", all of your fire alarm devices are effectively capable of pulling one additional pull handle that represents your building. This type of system was more commonly used in the past, but is only now used in some remaining cities/counties. False alarms distracting you local fire department were a driver in evolving to new architectures.
  • Proprietary supervising station fire alarm system: This system type is designed to protect large buildings, campuses, or multiple locations owned by the same owner. These systems involve monitoring of all premises from a dedicated, on-site location or an independent one. They are usually implemented by airports, industrial plants, universities, hospitals, and retail chains. For the owner, a proprietary supervising station fire alarm system offers several advantages. It provides a centralized point for monitoring, which greatly enhances response times and accuracy of reporting any alarms or incidents on-site. The system also allows for greater control over inspections, testing, maintenance and repair of the system. Furthermore, it reduces labor costs as personnel can be assigned to one location instead of multiple sites. The system also provides the owner with up-to-date information on any alarm activations, false alarms, and emergency response times. This makes it easier for owners to determine if their fire safety systems are working as intended and if they need additional equipment or personnel.
  • Central station fire alarm system: An advanced form of remote supervision designed to meet the stringent requirements of ANSI/UL 827. Offering more than just monitoring, this system also provides a range of services such as record keeping and reporting, testing services, and runner service. This type of system may be necessary for certain occupancies due to insurance and code requirements, or it may be chosen by a building owner for convenience. A central station fire alarm system will provide more comprehensive protection than stand-alone systems due to its ability to monitor and alert more areas of the premises from one central location. Additionally, this type of system offers additional services such as record keeping, testing, and maintenance. These services help to ensure that the system is properly maintained and functioning correctly, providing additional peace of mind for you as the building owner.
  • Remote Supervising Station Fire Alarm System: A specialized system designed to constantly monitor fire alarms from a variety of different locations. Unlike Central Station Fire Alarm Systems, these systems are not responsible for additional services such as installation, inspection, testing or maintenance; they are instead focused solely on monitoring and recording of signals sent from the fire alarm system. This type of system is ideal for owners who require supervising services but don't want or need the extra services offered by a Central Station Fire Alarm System.

The size and properties of your specific building will determine which of these monitoring types is required by the NFPA code.

What are the 13 functions of Building Alarm and Signal Systems in NFPA 72?

Although the code goes on to mandate certain kinds of alarm/signal functions in certain building types, we first need to simply list the items that might be included in your system:

NFPA 72 Section* Building Alarm and Signaling Systems. Protected premises systems that serve the alarm and signaling needs of a building or buildings shall include one or more of the following systems or functions:

  1. Manual fire alarm signal initiation
  2. Automatic fire alarm and supervisory signal initiation
  3. Monitoring of abnormal conditions in fire suppression systems
  4. Actuation of fire suppression systems
  5. Actuation of emergency control functions
  6. Actuation of fire alarm notification appliances
  7. In-building fire emergency voice/alarm communications
  8. Automatic carbon monoxide alarm and supervisory signal initiation
  9. Actuation of carbon monoxide notification appliances
  10. Guard's tour supervisory service
  11. Process monitoring supervisory systems
  12. Actuation of off-premises signals
  13. Combination systems

You're probably familiar with some of these items. On my first reading, for example, I was already very familiar with (1) manual initiating devices (like pull handles) and (2) automatic initiating devices (like smoke detectors).

Other items, like "Guard's tour supervisory service" and "Process monitoring supervisory systems", were unfamiliar to me. I had a small inkling of what this might mean, simply because I know that fire alarm systems sometimes serve double-duty for building security functions. I truly was uncertain what they meant at first, though. Read on for a full explanation of what these actually mean.

As you may already see, the 13 functions above can be subdivided into 5 major groupings: alarm initiation, fire suppression, on-premises alarm signaling, off-premises alarm signaling, and "other functions". I leave the final item, "Combination systems", out of these logical groupings, as it is inherently just combinations of fire and non-fire alarm systems.

Functions 1-3: Initiation of Fire Alarms

The first 3 items in our list deal with alarm initiation. Manual and automatic initiating devices are something that I frequently talk about on this blog. The third item, "Monitoring of abnormal conditions in fire suppression systems", serves essentially the same function. Instead of monitoring for fire conditions, however, we're constantly monitoring our suppression systems (discussed below) to ensure that they're ready to operate in an emergency.

Functions 4-5: Suppression of Fires

Our next two functions are about automated responses once a fire has been detected. Direct fire suppression is what we think about most, whether that be fire sprinklers or halon systems or something else. Function 5 covers "emergency control functions", which can include almost anything that improves survivability during a fire. This could include emergency lighting, the opening of evacuation doors, or anything else that improves outcomes despite not directly suppressing the fire itself.

Functions 6-9: On-Premises Alarm Signaling

These four functions all deal with the alerting of on-site personnel, whether they are in the path of a fire or responsible for the fire response. This includes basic siren activation, alerts that are specific to carbon monoxide accumulation, and miscellaneous public address systems that can be used for custom messages spoken live into a microphone.

Function 12: Off-Premises Signaling

Based on NFPA code requirements and also simple best practices, it's also important to notify outsiders about your fire as soon as possible. This includes a central station or other monitoring group that can swiftly dispatch firefighters to your location.

Functions 10-11: "Other Functions"

These were the functions I wasn't sure about on my first reading of NFPA 72. As it turns out, my suspicions about what a "guard tour" is were confirmed by further research. Before automated fire alarm systems, all we had were "fire watches" that involved roving patrols by humans. Modern systems can backstop this process by ensuring that patrols happen at the times and locations dictated. Humans can be unreliable, so Function 10 is about the alarm system monitoring whether a fire watch is being adequately maintained. Process monitoring under Function 11 follows similar logic.

Function 13: Combination Systems

For some buildings, it makes economic sense to combine non-fire alarms (ex. burglar alarms) with the fire alert system. NFPA 72 allows this in many circumstances, but obviously sets rules for what an acceptable combination system must accomplish.

Digitize will help you understand NFPA 72 monitoring requirements

We make proprietary fire alarm monitoring systems at Digitize, so we naturally have to be experts in NFPA 72 and a variety of related fire codes.

You can start now by talking to me. I don't yet know absolutely everything there is to know, but I'm your connection to the Digitize engineers who do.

To get help with NPFA 72 or any other fire alarm question, call Digitize now 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