Fire Alarm System Interface Relays

Fire Alarm Interface RelayOut of sight is out of mind. It is the master illusionist’s greatest asset. He gets you looking at something that is distracting your attention away from the object at hand, and before you know it he makes it seem that through a magical intervention, something appears. Or disappears. Or… whatever. The point is, while your attention is located elsewhere, something else happened that you did not notice.

When I was a kid they called that a trick. Actually, it still is a trick, but now they call it something else, like an illusion. Harry Houdini was first called a magician before he was called an escape artist. But I don’t remember seeing anything in print where they called him an illusionist. The word “illusionist” sounds so much nicer and professional for today’s environment than “magician”. But, I digress… That seems to have very little to do with what I want to share today.

A review of the survey deficiency reports indicates surveyors are looking for documentation that the hospital has tested the interface relays and modules on the fire alarm system. I guess that’s the bridge between the illusions and the interface relays: You can’t see them. The interface relays are “out-of-sight and out-of-mind”. If you can’t see them, you tend to forget they are there, and then they are not included in the fire alarm testing report.

Many facility managers rely on the fire alarm contractor to provide a complete test report without actually checking what was tested. This is a grave mistake. No offense to fire alarm testing contractors, but you should never rely on their advice or opinion on the level of testing. You (as the facility manager) have to be smarter than the fire alarm testing contractor to ensure they did everything correctly. They don’t necessarily know what codes and standards (or what editions) you need to comply with, but you should know. That makes you the expert.

Not long ago I was consulting in a hospital and reviewing their fire alarm test report. The report failed to indicate that they tested their interface relays. I asked the facility manager about it and he called the sales representative from the fire alarm testing contractor who happened to be nearby. He stopped in while I was there and I asked him why they did not test the interface relays. He said he knew they were supposed to be tested, but told me (and this is a direct quote): “The hospital would not let me test them”. This surprised the facility manager and myself, and the sales rep explained further.

“We had to bid our services to the hospital based on a request for proposal. Nothing in the request indicated that the interface relays were included. We submitted a bid strictly based on what was requested in the proposal. Had we added anything that was not requested, we would not have been awarded with the contract.”

Some would say that the fire alarm testing contractor was unethical for not informing the hospital of all the items that needed to be tested that were not included in the RFP. I don’t know if that is unethical or not, but I will tell you this: That hospital got exactly what it asked for in the RFP. Unfortunately.

So, back to the point: Get those fire alarm interface relays included in the fire alarm testing process and document each one individually, with a “Pass” or a “Fail” notation. Here is a list of the most common interface relays used in hospital fire alarm systems:

  • Magnetic hold-open devices
  • Air handler shutdown
  • Kitchen hood suppression system
  • Elevator recall
  • Magnetic locks
  • Fire pump
  • Smoke dampers
  • Clean agent suppression systems
  • Sprinkler dry pipe/pre-action systems
  • Overhead rolling fire doors

Take a look at your latest fire alarm test report. Does it include interface relays? If not… better get on the phone to the company or individual conducting the testing for you.