Quell Any I&T Qualification Concerns

Chapter 14 of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, is the only chapter that is retroactive.

I am writing this in memory of Alex Torres, who for years was one of our instructors at Bay Alarm Company and trained many of our installers, service technicians and fire inspectors. He passed away in March after a brief illness.

Today I’m addressing inspection and testing (I&T) of fire alarm systems. For some this may be a review; however, it’s a topic well worth repeating. In the 2016 edition of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, the requirements for I&T are found within Chapter 14, Inspection, Testing and Maintenance.

This is the only chapter that is retroactive within 72. By this I mean that if the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) has adopted the 2016 edition, I&T would be performed as per the requirements found in this one, even if the system being inspected was installed to the 1993 edition. Prior to I&T, the contractor does need to verify which edition of 72 has been adopted.

As with any fire alarm system, the person(s) performing the work need to be qualified. Depending on the state or jurisdiction, this may include the requirement for a license for the firm or for the technician who is doing the actual work. Within Chapter 10, Fundamentals, the minimum qualifications may be found.

10.5.3* Inspection, Testing, and Service Personnel.

A.10.5.3 It is not the intent to require personnel performing simple inspections or operational tests of initiating devices to require factory training or special certification, provided such personnel can demonstrate knowledge in these areas.

This last statement is from the Annex of NFPA 72, so it is in nonmandatory language. While it may not be the intent of 72 to require this level of training, I am seeing a number of AHJs require this now. In most if not all cases, the AHJ does have the final word.* Inspection Personnel. Inspections shall be performed by personnel who have developed competence through training and experience that are acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction or meet the requirement of

A. The requirements for inspection personnel can vary depending on the type of inspection being performed. The purpose for initial and reacceptance inspections is to ensure compliance with approved design documents and to ensure installation in accordance with this Code and other required installation standards. Therefore, the acceptance inspection should be performed by someone who is familiar with the specific requirements requirements, the design documents, and the applicable codes and standards.

The person performing the system I&T does need to know what it may be connected to. It is one thing to test an installation that provides supervision of a sprinkler system. But does this same system cause all of the fire curtains to drop, or is the sprinkler system part of an aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) environment? Shock to the inspector who just opened the valve to AFFF. The caution provided in the Annex for acceptance test should also be a caution for regular I&T.

This implies that acceptance inspections should be performed by the persons or entities responsible for the system design and by authorities having jurisdiction. Once a system or a change to a system has been accepted, the inspection needs also change. The purpose for periodic inspections is to assure that obvious damages or changes that might affect the system operability are visually identified.

Those persons performing periodic system inspections might or might not be familiar with all the specific system design goals and requirements. While many periodic inspections could uncover design faults, the intent of this Code is for such problems to be discovered at the acceptance inspection. The Code does not intend to require persons performing periodic inspections necessarily to be knowledgeable or qualified for inspecting and verifying the design of a system.

Do not confuse “inspections” with “tests.”* Testing Personnel. Testing personnel shall have knowledge and experience of the testing requirements contained in this Code, of the equipment being tested, and of the test methods. That knowledge and experience shall be acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction or meet the requirement of

A. Testing personnel knowledge should include equipment selection, placement, and installation requirements of this Code and the manufacturer’s published documentation. Means of Qualification. Qualified personnel shall include, but not be limited to, one or more of the following:

(1)*Personnel who are factory trained and certified for the specific type and brand of system being serviced

A. Factory training and certification is intended to allow an individual to service equipment only for which he or she has specific brand and model training.

I am seeing more AHJs requiring that the individual who is to perform the acceptance test provide proof that they have been through the system manufacturer’s training program. All manufacturers of fire alarm control units offer these classes, so take advantage and ensure your field personnel have the minimum required operational knowledge.

(2)*Personnel who are certified by a nationally recognized certification organization acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction

A. Nationally recognized fire alarm certification programs might include those programs offered by the International Municipal Signal Association (IMSA), National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET), and the Electronic Security Association (ESA). NOTE: These organizations and the products or services offered by them have not been independently verified by the NFPA, nor have the products or services been endorsed or certified by the NFPA or any of its technical committees.

Programs have been in place with IMSA and the ESA for the certification of those that test and inspect for alarm systems. The ESA program is provided through its state chapters. In 2015, NICET with assistance of the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (AFAA) released a two-level program for I&T. Both certifications can be applied for through NICET.

No matter which program and certification you may select, it is a way to show that you or your employees have demonstrated a minimum knowledge in regards to I&T.

(3)*Personnel, either individually or through their affiliation with an organization that is registered, licensed, or certified by a state or local authority to perform service on systems addressed within the scope of this Code

A. Licenses and certifications offered at a state or local level are intended to recognize those individuals who have demonstrated a minimum level of technical competency in the area of fire alarm servicing.

As noted, depending on the jurisdiction, there may be a license requirement. Even if a license is not required, the individual inspector should at least have one of the aforementioned certifications.

(4) Personnel who are employed and qualified by an organization listed by a nationally recognized testing laboratory for the servicing of systems within the scope of this Code

I am not a big fan of this last method, as it does not require any individual certification. If the contractor has been listed by UL, FM Approvals or ESL then the requirements of NFPA 72 have been met. My concern is that while this shows the contracting firm has demonstrated an understanding of 72, there has been no testing of the inspectors. The listed company, however, is responsible to ensure that all inspections are in accordance with 72.

The NFPA has published a new standard, NFP
A 3, Standard for Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing. NFPA 72 does not require an end-to-end test of an integrated system. Say you are connected to fire/smoke dampers for closure, for example. The smoke detector associated with the damper is tested to verify that the fire alarm works, and a change of status with the relay to the damper is verified. However there is no requirement that the fire alarm contractor verify that the damper worked, or worked correctly. The same is true for any of the many other fire safety features that a fire alarm may be connected to.

At present there are no building or fire codes that mandate use of NFPA 3. This will be changing with the publications of the next editions of NFPA 1, Fire Code and the International Fire Code. As a contractor and provider of fire alarm inspection services you should be knowledgeable on the requirements within NFPA 3 for both new systems and periodic inspections.

A number of fire alarm contracting firms install the system and maintain the system through the warranty period, but do not continue with I&T. I leave you with two thoughts on this: Inspection and tests are required by 72 and go a long way to ensure the system will operate when required and be free of unwanted alarms; and, I&T is a source of RMR.

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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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