Fire Technicians Cannot Live by Code Alone

Codes and standards play a vital role in the proper installation of fire and life safety systems, which in turn result in saved lives and property. That’s all well and good, but fire technicians must always realize that, ultimately, it is the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) in that particular municipality that has the final say. The following example illustrates this point.

Code Calls for Smoke in Elevator Pit

Recently, an architect in the northeast made a blueprint involving a new elevator where a smoke detector was shown in the elevator pit. The fire technician sought to have this changed to a heat detector, but county code enforcement demanded a smoke detector. Having never seen this before, the technician turned to the state industrial compliance division for direction.

Subsequently, the head person in the elevator compliance section indicated that, indeed, it was not advisable to install a smoke detector in the pit. The reasons given by the state included the likelihood of false alarms and subsequent failure, all related to excessive quantities of dust, dirt, oil, and a wide variation in temperature and humidity.

The fire technician had originally worked to change the local code enforcement’s decision, citing Section 3-9.3.5, NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code, 1999 Edition, published by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which states, “If ambient conditions prohibit installation of automatic smoke detection, other automatic fire detection shall be permitted.”

There were also other factors to consider. For example, per NFPA 72, Section 3-9.3.4, because the elevator hoistway is not sprinkled, code says that smoke detectors are not to be installed.

As cited in Section 3-9.3.4, there are two exceptions where smoke detectors are allowable. First, when a sprinkler system is present, and two, when a smoke detector is installed to operate the elevator smoke relief equipment. In this case, the head of county code enforcement did not want the pit detector to provide elevator control functions of any kind.

You Must Adhere to the AHJ

In the final analysis, despite all the code references and the advice from the state head elevator inspector, the fire technician was forced to install the smoke detector in the pit. As the state inspector so aptly put it, “It is the building inspector’s jurisdiction, so you will have to install the smoke detector where he wants it.”

The lesson is that the fire technician must follow the demands and expectations of the local AHJ.

Al Colombo is a technical writer in the electronic security and fire protection markets, providing technical direction for security dealers since 1986. Send your fire-related questions and comments to [email protected].

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About the Author


Al Colombo is a long-time trade journalist and professional in the security and life-safety markets. His work includes more than 40 years in security and life-safety as an installer, salesman, service tech, trade journalist, project manager,and an operations manager. You can contact Colombo through TpromoCom, a consultancy agency based in Canton, Ohio, by emailing [email protected], call 330-956-9003, visit www.Tpromo.Com.

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