In years past alarm technicians operated under the assumption that combination burglar/fire alarm panels were not allowed on commercial fire jobs. One reason is that many local fire inspectors would not allow it, demanding separate fire and burglar alarm panels.
Even when code spelled out the acceptance of combo panels, many inspectors continued to drag their feet and would not approve jobs unless the installer used dedicated panels. Since then, combination burg/fire panels have become fairly commonplace in commercial buildings, but only when they are listed for commercial fire.
According to Sections 18.104.22.168(11) of NFPA 72, 2007 Edition, “Protected premises fire alarm systems that serve the general fire alarm needs of a building or buildings shall include one or more of the following systems or functions: [1-10 omitted] (11) Combination systems; (12) Integrated systems.”
Section 22.214.171.124, 2007 Edition, also states, “Fire alarm systems shall be permitted to be either integrated systems combining all detection, notification and auxiliary functions in a single system or a combination of component subsystems. Fire alarm system components shall be permitted to share control equipment or shall be able to operate as standalone subsystems, but, in any case, they shall be arranged to function as a single system.”
By comparison, the 1996 Edition of NFPA 72, devoted only two subsections to the issue of combination systems (Sections 2-4.7.1 and 204.7.2[a]) where nonfire components are installed alongside fire-rated ones using the same control system. Both essentially say that nonfire components cannot interfere with the proper operation of life-safety functions.
The Systems Integration Tie-in
One of the reasons for the additional verbiage found in Section 126.96.36.199, 2007, relates to the issue of the systems integration approach to facility management. Here several subsystems can be installed using a single head-end control system. Local controllers are installed that provide access control, intrusion detection and video surveillance — right along with fire detection.
“I use them in small commercial applications with no problems, like doctor’s offices, mini storage facilities, small factories, small private schools, and more,” says Nick Markowitz, owner of Markowitz Electric Protection of Verona, Pa. “They work great and they save installing a second panel, which allows for greater integration of systems while providing its distinct function.”
When used in an integrated environment, each controller, or subsystem, is capable of functioning entirely on its own, making decisions and storing event data separately from the head-end. This fault-tolerant approach assures when connection is lost to the head-end that each subsystem continues to operate in a normal manner until said connection is restored.
Combo Panels Save Money
As Markowitz says, the use of combination burglar/fire alarm panels has the potential of saving the client money.
First, it reduces the time it takes to install a comprehensive fire and burglar alarm system because it eliminates the need for two separate control systems. But even more importantly, having a single alarm panel streamlines the programming process because the alarm installer only programs once.
The average time it takes to install a single burglar alarm panel with programming can be two hours or more. For a sizable fire alarm control panel it can be four to eight hours. By combining these two functions, a smaller labor factor can be used when estimating installation costs. Therefore, a lower labor factor assigned to panel installation will result in a better number at the bottom of the quote, which is what it takes to win a contract.
Secondly, employing a single centralized control panel reduces the amount of time and effort it takes to establish code-compliant communication between the premises and a central or supervising station facility. Instead of installing three channels of communication — two for the fire alarm DACT and one for the burglar alarm digital communicator — only two are required.
Integration Enhances Operation
There was probably a time in the past when the act of integrating fire and burglar alarm functions into a single operating system was not permissible by code. All references to integration or combination systems in code today state that it is permissible, providing the system in question meets certain criteria defined within NFPA 72.
The “Fire Alarm Signaling Systems Handbook” by Richard Bukowski, Robert O’Laughlin and Charles Zimmerman defines a combination system as: “A local protective signaling system for fire alarm, supervisory, or guard’s tour supervisory service whose components may be used in whole or in part in common with a non-fire signaling system such as a paging system, a burglar alarm system, a musical program system, or a process monitoring service system, without degradation of or hazard to the protective signaling system.”
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