This Small Change in NFPA 72 Could Prove Costly for Alarm Dealers

A small placement change within NFPA 72 may make a big impact on “immediately” handling alarms.

As we come to an end of 2017, there have been several Fire Side Chats this year in which I discussed a number of proposed changes to the 2019 edition of NFPA 72, “National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.”

Among them, there is one change that while very slight in appearance, could have broad repercussions. This will all depend on how it will be interpreted, so let’s dig a bit deeper into the verbiage. (But first let me point out that these comments are of my own conclusions and do not form a legal opinion as I am not a lawyer.)

Important Definition Currently Within NFPA 72 Annex

For several cycles, NFPA 72 has included requirements regarding the handling of alarm signals. The 2016 edition contains the following language: Except as permitted by 26.2.2 and, all fire alarm signals received by a supervising station shall be immediately retransmitted to the communications center.

Paragraph 26.2.2 covers alarm verification for nonresidential systems, while details alarm verification for household fire warning systems. Other than systems that have the approval of the local Authority Having Jurisdiction to have a delay for alarm verification, the supervising station, upon receipt of an alarm signal is to “immediately” retransmit the signal to the public dispatch center for emergency forces to be notified.

This is for all grades of system, central station service, remote station and proprietary. Within the NFPA 72 Annex, there is additional language on this:

A. The term immediately in this context is intended to mean “without unreasonable delay.” Routine handling should take a maximum of 90 seconds from receipt of an alarm signal.

With this language being within the Annex, the term “should” as opposed to “shall” is used, making the requirement nonmandatory. There may be times — due to events such as another prior alarm signal or signals, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, wildfire or some other significant happening — when all signals cannot be acted on within the 90 seconds.

The Annex paragraph also contains the phase “without unreasonable delay.” This is not defined within NFPA 72, and so that leaves it to interpretation. What is an unreasonable delay? It does depend in part on the circumstances that were contributing to the delay.

It may have been due to high signal traffic, or other events that may have been occurring externally or internally to the supervising station. Is it 91 seconds? Two minutes? Five minutes? It would most likely be in the eye of the beholder — or the user of a fire alarm system who feels that the call for service should have been faster.

Keep Your Eye on Key 2019 Edition Adoption Change

It should go without saying that every supervising station “should” indeed be making every effort to connect to a fire department within the 90-second timeframe, but as mentioned circumstances do occur. I bring this up because the Technical Committee on Supervising Station Fire Alarm and Signaling Systems has moved the text from the Annex to the main body of the standard, and “should” became “shall.”

The action of the Technical Committee was to create a definition for “immediately,” which is “performed without unreasonable delay.” The Committee statement for this change to the standard is, “The use of ‘immediately’ in multiple places in Chapter 26 requires a definition in the body of the Code, rather than the Annex.”

The text for remains the same for the 2019 edition. The change, subtle as it is, places the definition within the main body of the Standard as indeed the Technical Committee stated in their justification for this change. This places the phase “without unreasonable delay” also within the main body of the Standard.

During the Second Draft phase of the development of the 2019 edition, a public commit was received by the Technical Committee to remove the definition from the main body. The comment was voted down, with a Committee Statement to see the Annex material related to the definition of “immediately.”

The new Annex material for the definition of “immediately” states, “Actions that are performed ‘immediately’ should be performed within 90 seconds from receipt of a signal.”

While the phase “should be performed within 90 seconds” resides within the Annex, the problem that I foresee and that those who monitor fire alarm systems should be aware of is that the “without unreasonable delay” wording is now moving within the main body of the Standard as opposed to remaining in Annex territory.

Depending when the 2019 edition of NFPA 72 is adopted in your service area(s), you should be aware that a user of the system may claim that there was an unreasonable delay even if the fire alarm system operated but that the call to notify emergency forces was not fast enough.

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About the Author


Shane Clary, Ph.D., is Security Sales & Integration’s “Fire Side Chat” columnist. He has more than 37 years of security and fire alarm industry experience. He serves on a number of NFPA technical committees, and is vice president of Codes and Standards Compliance for Pancheco, Calif.-based Bay Alarm Co.

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