How Service Providers Should Deliver Quality Fire Alarm Service

Tech Electronics Service Supervisor Mark Bicknell relays tips and responsibilities for fire alarm service providers to remember.

In NFPA 2007, NFPA went as far as requiring full documentation be left on site to minimize delays in bringing a system back up to its full functionality as originally programmed. However, in NFPA 2013, to further strength the requirement, documentation must be housed in a secure enclosure either inside the panel or in a separate enclosure/cabinet that is prominently labeled ‘System Record Documents.’

NFPA 2013 requirements were implemented to solidify how the service provider obtained a copy of the original documentation.

In order for the fire alarm system pass inspections of the local AHJs and comply with code, service providers need to request that building owners provide documentation for 100% inventory of all connections to and from the fire alarm system as well as the testing status of the inventory indicated. Further documentation may be needed for smoke detector calibration information or manufacture date codes. If other vendors are involved, the building owners will need to provide the separate documentation as a different NFPA standard may apply.

Building owners must make sure that detailed documentation is kept throughout the entire process from original design to the installation, initial acceptance testing and ongoing testing and inspections for the usable life of the system. Any changes to the system must be documented and updated on the current as-built/record documentation of the system.

Testing the System Entirely
As most fire alarm inspection companies know, systems can change between required inspections. There may be new additions to the existing structure, a new tenant may change the building occupancy or a new code may require the system to be updated or upgraded. When new components are integrated with the current system by different providers, it can lead to important updates being overlooked. The only way to catch these changes is to test the system in its entirety.

Large networked systems have the ability to interface with HVAC systems, smoke dampers, supply and exhaust fans, stairwell pressurization fans, extinguishment systems, fire pumps, sprinkler systems, computer room equipment, gas detectors, shutoff and releasing solenoids, elevators, and smoke control systems just to name a few. With interfacing equipment, it is imperative that the building owner be prepared with the correct sequence of operation so the inspection service provider can confirm proper operation of the system from input to output.

Suggesting that the building owner should organize the inspection to involve all parties responsible for the systems that are integrated with the fire alarm system is beneficial. This helps the owner and service provider organize the inspection and testing process. It also, ensures that 100% of the devices that are connected to and/or controlled by the fire alarm system are tested at the frequency required by NFPA 72. If system testing is done separately, the sequence of operation can never be fully confirmed and a true end to end test is not accomplished. This leaves a system that may or may not function as intended or comply with code.

The NICET is one of the highest rated nationally recognized certifications.

How to be a Good Service Provider
Building owners look for a service provider that can help them avoid costly fines due to noncompliance, as well as enhance the protection of people and property. In order to become the go-to service provider, the company should first staff technicians that have nationally recognized industry and manufacture certifications. The National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICE
T) is one of the highest rated nationally recognized certifications. Being staffed with technicians who understand what needs to be accomplished — from installation, to documentation, to inspections — guarantees customer satisfaction and leads to recurring revenue for the service provider.

Second, the service organization should obtain third party accreditations. One of the most recognizable is Underwriters Laboratories (UL). As a UL-certified service provider, the company has the credibility to properly maintain and service UL-certified systems throughout the region. In most cases, UL-listed service companies have direct relationships with local fire marshals or authority having jurisdictions, which is beneficial for the customer as they determine and enforce the codes that have been adopted.

Third, partner with a reputable UL-listed and NFPA-accredited monitoring company. Partnering with a UL- certified company better ensures that the strict requirements of UL are met. It also means the company is fully staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the computer system automatically documents every dispatcher action and the entire computer network is reinforced by backup power in the event of a major power outage. The partnership between a service organization and monitoring company can ensure smooth communication between the two, giving the building owner peace of mind while enhancing the safety of their people and property. 

The True Cost
Cutting corners in the inspection process in order to lower the cost for customers may seem like a good way to drive more business, but it can be detrimental in the end. According to an NFPA report in 2013, there were 100,500 nonresidential structure fires with 70 civilian causalities, which is an increase of 7.7% from 2012. There is no monetary amount that can be placed on the loss of life due to a malfunctioning fire system which should be reason enough to go above and beyond as a service provider.

With cost being the common factor for building owners to skimp on inspections, it is important to inform potential customers of the other costs. By not having the fire alarm inspected and tested by a reputable partner, the building owner could be left without a building due to a fire event or an uncopiable building. False alarms can also become very costly to the building owner. Fire departments are holding building owners accountable for the proper functionality of the fire alarm system by charging false alarm fees.

The true cost of proper fire alarm inspections and tests depends on what the building owner is willing to risk. A reputable service organization informs the customers of all the potential mishaps and cost that come with cutting corners.

Building owners and property managers have choices when it comes to choosing a service provider. In the end, complete testing of the system and ensuring that the system complies with code is the job of the fire alarm service provider. That is why it is crucial for a service organization to staff certified technicians with a complete understanding of code requirements, documentation and the importance of 100% testing of all connections to and from the fire alarm system. By understanding the building owner’s needs, a service provider can not only build an ongoing relationship with their customers but can help protect their facility and occupants from harm. 

Bio: Mark Bicknell, Tech Electronics service supervisor, has 32 years of experience in fire and life safety technology. Currently, he manages all fire alarm inspections for all 6 locations. He is a certified instructor in Fire Alarm Inspections & Code Review, NFPA 72 System Testing and Basic Fire Alarm Communicator Programming. He holds many certifications in fire alarm methods, fire alarm digital audio/networking and code applications.

If you enjoyed this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

Security Is Our Business, Too

For professionals who recommend, buy and install all types of electronic security equipment, a free subscription to Commercial Integrator + Security Sales & Integration is like having a consultant on call. You’ll find an ideal balance of technology and business coverage, with installation tips and techniques for products and updates on how to add to your bottom line.

A FREE subscription to the top resource for security and integration industry will prove to be invaluable.

Subscribe Today!

Get Our Newsletters