Class A Wiring for Fire Alarm Systems

Q: Is Class ‘A’ wiring required in new construction for new fire alarm systems?

A: Per NFPA 72-2010, chapter, unless a class of wiring is determined by a local AHJ or the owner, it’s a design decision, based on an evaluation of site specific conditions and the needs of the facility.  There’s nothing in NFPA 101, 72 or 70 that mandates a particular pathway class must be used in a particular occupancy for fire alarm systems.  The only mandates are what devices go in (based on the LSC); where they go in (based on NFPA72) and the physical attributes of the conduit & conductors, along with their mounting methods (based on NFPA 70).

Many times healthcare notification circuits are subject to survivability requirements because they do not have general evacuation, but the intent of survivability is to provide continuity of service through physical protection of the conductors from attack by fire rather than to ensure continuity of service due to any circuit break.  Some design engineers equate survivability with Class A wiring, but that’s a mistake.  Class A wiring may be used in conjunction with other factors such as sprinkler coverage as a performance means of achieving survivability in lieu of the prescriptive method, but it’s not required.

Fire Door Smoke Detectors

Q: I have a life safety consultant doing our annual inspection, and he keeps saying that I need to have individual smoke detectors for my corridor fire rated doors. The corridors on both sides of these doors are completely protected with smoke detectors, but he says regardless, that area smoke detectors are required next to the doors. Is this correct?

A: No, I don’t believe what the consultant is telling you is correct. Section of NFPA 72 (2010) allows for either area smoke detectors or complete corridor smoke detector protection to activate the release of a hold-open on a door serving a fire barrier or a smoke compartment barrier. So, in regards to the cross-corridor doors that are held open by magnets connected to the fire alarm system, you are permitted to have one of the following:

  • A smoke detector on either side of the door mounted within five feet of the door; or smoke detectors mounted on both sides of the door within five feet if the transom above the door is greater than 24 inches.
  • The entire corridor where the cross-corridor door is located is properly protected with smoke detectors. A smoke detector must then be located within 15 feet of the door. For mounting locations for an area protected with detectors, the detectors must be no more than 15 feet from the wall (this is based on one-half of the maximum spacing distance between detectors which is 30 feet). The cross-corridor doors must be considered ‘closed’ when designing the detector locations, so that constitutes a “wall” and a detector is required within 15 feet of that wall.

Where consultants and surveyors have problems is they see a cross-corridor door held open by a magnet, and then they do not see a detector within five feet, and they believe that is a violation of NFPA 72. What they don’t consider is the corridor is completely protected with smoke detectors and NFPA 72 (2010) (1) allows a detector to be one-half of the maximum spacing.

Occupant Notification Devices

Q: Is there a specific distance that fire alarm audible/visible notification appliances are required to be mounted from other similar devices? We have multiple strobe devices in some rooms, but not in others.

A: Wall-mounted audible notification appliances are required to be at least 90 inches above the floor as measured at the top of the device, but a minimum of 6 inches below the finished ceiling. If the audible notification appliance is combined with a visible notification appliance, then the mounting location of the device shall be determined by the requirements for the visible notification appliance. Wall mounted visible notification appliances shall be mounted so the entire lens is not less than 80 inches and not more than 96 inches above the finished floor. (Some exceptions for performance-based design apply). Ceiling mounted installations are permitted for occupant notification appliances provided the devices are rated by the manufacturer for such installation. If the combination audible/visible notification appliance is an integral part of the smoke detector, then the mounting location shall be determined by the requirements for the smoke detector.

The capacity of each occupant notification appliance (whether it be audible or visible) is determined by the manufacturer, and the minimum requirements found in NFPA 72. Since there are different capacities with a variety of notification appliances, the mounting locations are determined by the sound pressure ratings for audible devices, and candela ratings for visible devices. Basically, (with some limitations spelled out in the NFPA 72 standard) the manufacturer of the notification appliance makes the determination how far apart they can be installed and how many devices are required for a given room. But NFPA 72 does provide tables for minimum standards for the mounting locations of visible notification appliances, based on the intensities of the candela rating of each device.

The spacing and locations of the occupant notification devices is specified by the designing engineer for the original project, and is reviewed by the authority having jurisdiction for design and construction. Once approved, the installing contractor must mount the specified occupant notification device where the designing engineer stipulates. Once installed, the installing contractor is required to conduct a sound pressure test on the audible devices to measure the dB at the specified locations for each device to ensure the performance is in accordance with the engineer’s specifications.

To directly answer your question… Yes there are specifications on the mounting locations of these occupant notification devices, but it has to do with the manufacturer’s rating of their devices along with NFPA 72 standards.

Fire Alarm Systems in Business Occupancies

Q: We are converting a facility that was used as a physician’s office into our women’s clinic and OB/GYN facility. There were previously 4 exam rooms and we are making it into 6 exam rooms. This unit has no fire alarm, no sprinklers, not even a stand-alone smoke detector. This doesn’t seem right in today’s environment.

A: It appears what you are describing is a business occupancy. Section of the 2012 LSC says this about fire alarm systems in business occupancies: “A fire alarm system in accordance with Section 9.6 shall be provided in any business occupancy where any one of the following conditions exists:

  1. The building is two or more stories in height above the level of exit discharge;
  2. The occupancy is subject to 50 or more occupants above or below the level of exit discharge;
  3. The occupancy is subject to 300 or more total occupants.”

If your facility does not meet any of the above requirements, then you would not be required to have a fire alarm system. Also, section 38.3.5 does not require business occupancies to have sprinklers. But please check with your state and local authorities to see if they have other requirements.

Fire Alarm Systems

Q: Our hospital has an outpatient clinic attached via a hallway and connected to the hospital directly. When I am in the out-patient clinic you cannot hear the fire alarms going off in the hospital. Do the systems need to communicate? They are currently on 2 different systems.

A: No… the two systems are not required to communicate with each other unless the expectation is for staff at one location is to respond to fire alarms in the other location. However, it may be practical for the alarm to communicate in each other’s building, in some fashion. There may be key individuals (i.e. engineering staff, management staff, and executives) who may be in one location and if the alarm is activated in the other location, they should know about it. But this can also be accomplished using two-way radios or pagers.

Fire Alarm Audible Devices in Physician Sleep Rooms

Q: We have audible notification devices for the fire alarm system installed in our physician sleep rooms. We have a physician requesting the one in his area be removed. Are we permitted to remove the audible devices or do we have to have them?

A: Well…. I would certainly remove any audible alarm notification devices from a physician sleeping room, but there are some surveyors who are sticklers for them. Here is the reason why:

A physician sleeping room on a patient unit would be considered a mixed occupancy as the physician sleeping room would have to meet chapter 29 Existing Hotels & Dormitories. Section of the 2012 Life Safety Code requires an approved single-station smoke alarm in every sleeping room. A smoke alarm is different than the typical smoke detector in the hospital. The smoke alarm is required to have an audible device when the smoke alarm is activated it will alert the individual in the room. So, technically, the audible device is required and some surveyors actually require it.

However, since the sleeping room is in a hospital, most accreditation organizations allow a hospital smoke detector to be installed in the sleeping room in lieu of a smoke alarm since there is staff on duty that would wake any sleeping physicians in the event of a fire. But, not all surveyors and AHJs see it that way and actually require the smoke alarms with audible devices to be installed.

But perhaps the saving grace for you is the smoke alarm in the physician sleeping room is not required to be connected to the building fire alarm system (a smoke detector would be, but not a smoke alarm) so you don’t have to have a building audible notification device in the sleeping room which would activate everytime the fire alarm system is activated. Just have a single-station smoke alarm that has an audible signal installed, which will only activates if the a fire develops in the sleeping room.

By the way, section and requires a fire-rated door to that room if the corridor is not sprinklered, and the door needs a closer.

ASC Fire Alarm Testing

Q: What section of NFPA 72 (the National Fire Alarm Code) requires ambulatory surgery centers to perform testing of their fire alarm system on a quarterly basis? Do devices that require annual testing have to be divided and have the service contractor do 25% of them each quarter? My organization would like to know the specific identifier so that the requirement may be referred to.

A: The quick answer is there is no requirement in NFPA 72 (or any other NFPA standard) that requires quarterly testing of the fire alarm system for ASC classified as ambulatory care occupancies. Section of the 2000 edition of the LSC requires compliance with section 9.6. Section requires compliance with NFPA 72 (1999 edition) for testing and maintenance. NFPA 72, Table 7-3.2 discusses the frequency of testing and inspection for each component and device of the fire alarm system. While there are a few items that require quarterly testing (such as water-flow switches on sprinklers system, which actually comes from NFPA 25, and off-premises emergency notification transmission equipment), for the most part, annual testing is required on all initiating devices, notification devices, and interface devices. You do not have to divide the components that require annual testing into four groups and have your service contractor perform testing on 25% of the devices on a quarterly basis. Actually, this can be troublesome for larger organizations if the service contractor fails to test the devices during the same quarter each year. Most accreditation organizations require the annual test to be performed 12 months from the previous test, plus or minus 30 days.

Fire Alarm Test Report

Q: Does NFPA 72-1999 edition specifically state that annual fire system inspection documentation include an itemized inventory of each system device as passed or fail? Does a report stating that (i.e. 20 pull stations passed, 72 smoke detectors passed, 19 duct detectors passed) satisfy the requirement?

A: Specifically? I would say it does, but if you want to see the words: “Every annual fire alarm system documentation must include an itemized inventory of each device as passed or failed” … you will not find those words in NFPA 72, 1999 edition.

What it does say is this: Section 7-5.2.2 requires documentation of the fire alarm test to comply with all the applicable information found in Figure 7-5.2.2. On page 3 (of 4) of figure 7-5.2.2, the documentation required by NFPA 72 includes:

    • Location of the device
    • Serial number of device
    • Device type
    • Visual check
    • Functional test
    • Factory setting
    • Measured setting
    • Pass of Fail

In addition to that requirement for annual testing, section 7- requires all components affected by a change to the system to be 100% tested. This is in regards to a change to the system, like the addition of an initiating device all the devices on the circuit for the new device must be tested.

So, I would say NFPA 72 (1999 edition) does specifically require the documentation of whether or not each device passed or failed its test. Also, it is now an interpretation by many of the national AHJs for healthcare organizations that each test report has this information documented. The logic for this requirement is solid; how does the facility manager know that the fire alarm testing technician actually tested each and every device in their building, if you do not know where they are, and document the results of each test?

A report stating that 20 pull stations passed, 72 smoke detectors passed, 19 duct detectors passed their inspection would NOT satisfy the reporting requirement, as I understand it. There needs to be an inventory list showing each device location and whether or not it passed or failed its test.


It makes good sense.


Fire Alarm System in a Business Occupancy?

Q: We have a physician practice that currently has fire extinguishers and a “panic button” that contacts 911. We do not have fire alarms, smoke detectors or a sprinkler system. Are we required to have any of those in the practice?

A: The answer is… maybe yes and maybe no. Sorry; that’s not much of an answer, but not all offsite small business occupancies actually require a fire alarm system.

If the physician practice is truly a business occupancy, meaning there is no procedures being conducted where patients are rendered incapable of self-preservation, then section of the 2000 Life Safety Code says this for existing conditions:

A fire alarm system in accordance with section 9.6 shall be provided in any business occupancy where any one of the following conditions exists:

  • The building is two or more stories in height above the level of exit discharge
  • The occupancy is subject to 100 or more occupants above or below the level of exit discharge
  • The occupancy is subject to 1,000 or more total occupants.

For new construction in business occupancies (meaning new construction or renovation documents approved by local authorities after March 11, 2003), section of the 2000 Life Safety Code says this:

A fire alarm system in accordance with section 9.6 shall be provided in any business occupancy where any one of the following conditions exists: 

  • The building is two or more stories in height above the level of exit discharge
  • The occupancy is subject to 50 or more occupants above or below the level of exit discharge
  • The occupancy is subject to 300 or more total occupants.


The occupant capacity is calculated by taking the total gross area of the floor (or building) in square feet, and dividing it by 100 square feet per person. So, a 5,000 square foot story would have an occupant load of 50 persons.

So, as you can see, if the physician practice is a business occupancy and meets the requirements for a new or existing occupancy, then a fire alarm system is not required, according to the Life Safety Code.

Sprinkler systems are not required in business occupancies, whether they are new construction or existing construction.

Now, there may be other codes or standards that you need to comply with, so please check with your local and state authorities to determine what their requirements are.

Visual Inspection of Fire Alarm Devices

Q: A question came up recently on the NFPA 72 semi-annual visual inspections required for fire alarm system devices. Would the printed records from an intelligent fire alarm system suffice for the visual inspections on devices such as smoke detectors, pull stations and heat detectors?

A: I would say no, the printed records from an intelligent fire alarm system would not suffice for a visual inspection on the fire alarm system devices. Items such as the following must be visually inspected twice a year on a semi-annual basis:

Initiating Devices

  1. Duct Detectors
  2. Electromechanical Releasing Devices
  3. Fire-Extinguishing System(s) or Suppression

System(s) Switches

  1. Fire Alarm Boxes
  2. Heat Detectors
  3. Radiant Energy Fire Detectors
  4. Smoke Detectors

The reasoning for this decision is found in the NFPA 72 handbook, which states: “The visual inspection is made to ensure that there are no changes that effect equipment performance. Equipment performance can be affected by building modifications, occupancy changes, changes in environmental conditions, device location, physical obstructions, device orientation, physical damage, improper installation, degree of cleanliness, or other obvious problems that might not be indicated through electrical supervision.”

It is not uncommon to find ancillary hospital equipment placed or installed in such a way as to affect or obstruct the normal operation of some of these devices. Semi-annual visual inspections will find these issues before they affect the performance of the fire alarm system.

Generally speaking, the printed records from an intelligent fire alarm system would only suffice for documentation on the 2-year sensitivity testing requirement. Everything else would have to be confirmed through direct observation.