Fire chiefs, inspectors and marshals carry the heavy burden of a community’s life safety on their shoulders. Should a tragedy occur, they are the first ones called to the carpet to explain what and why something bad happened on their watch.
For this reason, these professionals “take ownership” of the life-safety regulations and many times insert their own preferences into the local code, which is their office privilege.
Across the board, however, the one element that each and every authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) wants is comprehensive data about the status of all of the commercial fire alarm systems within their jurisdiction. No AHJ would ever object to receiving a report that clearly states which properties in a jurisdiction do not have an operational fire alarm system.
Fortunately, this information is readily available from your central station to share with AHJs on a daily basis or even multiple times a day. Contractors can use this offer as an opportunity to speak with the AHJ about any properties for which they have special concern due to their use, such as hospitals, schools or other high-risk facilities. For those properties, the AHJ may want to receive instant “push reports” when there are operational status changes. That means any status change would result in a message being sent to one or more designated fire officials in their preferred medium, such as text message, E-mail, fax, etc.
More advanced protection becoming available is the capability to link video from surveillance systems to give the maximum amount of information about a fire scenario. The life-safety benefit of sending video clips from impacted zones to alert firefighters about what they will face is game-changing.
Procedures to Follow When Systems Are Out of Commission
Per NFPA 72, there is a multistep action plan that must be taken when a trouble or equipment-maintenance signal is received from a premise.
After the operator notifies the designated people at the premise and lets the prime contractor know so they can begin dispatching service personnel, NFPA 72 requires AHJ notification if the interruption of service will be longer than four hours. (Some AHJs do not require this.) The next provision calls for written notice to the AHJ of restoration of service, the nature of the signal and time of the occurrence if the system has been out for more than eight hours.
It is this system “down time” that is most worrisome to AHJs, especially if it extends to overnight hours when the building will be unoccupied, as the only notification of a fire will come when it is large enough to be visible to people passing by the location. Not only does this result in unnecessary facility damage, it also endangers lives and adjacent properties.
Providing Community-Wide Status Reports
Too often, the four- and eight-hour requirements to notify the AHJ are skipped for a variety of reasons, including the “protection” of the property owner who could be forced by the AHJ to hire a fire watch until the issues are resolved.
These provisions put the contractor in an awkward situation to decide whether to follow the code and inform the AHJ or risk damaging their relationship with the customer.
A simple solution is to remove yourself from the decision-making process by electing to have your central station provide automatic system-status reports to AHJs for each account in the jurisdiction. Contractors can then explain to customers that this new procedure is a best practice intended to increase their protection.
Not only will property owners understand and appreciate the reason behind the new procedure, you will be providing the AHJ with daily data that they can act upon to help increase life safety in their jurisdiction.
Kevin Lehan is Manager of Public Relations for Des Plaines, Ill.-based Emergency24 Inc. He also serves as executive director of the Illinois Electronic Security Association (IESA).