Fire Alarm Testing Qualifications

Q: I have a question regarding testing and repair of fire alarm system in a hospital setting. Is a maintenance person who is employed by the hospital as an electrician but who has 10-years of on-the-job training qualified to swap out a bad smoke detector or smashed fire pull station? Is he allowed to test the notification and transmission equipment also? Just trying to make sure I am interpreting the NFPA standards correctly.

A: Only if that individual has met the requirements of NFPA 72-2010, section 10.4.3.1, which describes the certification(s) needed in order to provide service, testing or maintenance on the fire alarm system:

“Service personnel shall be qualified and experienced in the inspection, testing, and maintenance of systems addressed within the scope of this Code. Qualified personnel shall include, but not be limited to, one or more of the following:

  • Personnel who are factory trained and certified for the specific type and brand of system being serviced;
  • Personnel who are certified by a nationally recognized certification organization acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction;
  • Personnel who are registered, licensed, or certified by a state or local authority to perform service on systems addressed within the scope of this Code;
  • 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.”

Now, the Annex section A.10.4.3.1 of NFPA 72-2010 says 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. While the Annex section is not part of the enforceable code, it is explanatory information from the Technical Committee on what they were thinking when the standards were written. Most AHJs follow the Annex section and enforce it as part of their own standards.

However, changing out smoke detectors and/or pull stations is not within the purview of what the Annex section is saying.  To directly answer your question: If your electrician does not have any of the certifications identified in section 10.4.3.1, then no, he is not permitted to replace detector and/or pull stations.

Annual Alarm Transmission Test

Q: Is the alarm transmission verification test generally performed by a fire alarm testing company on every device during an annual test/inspection? I also thought that this was a quarterly requirement. I would verify receipt and timing of transmission with the central station once a quarter during fire drills. Do I have this confused with another standard?

A: No… NFPA changed the standard on you. Under the 1999 edition of NFPA 72, which the 2000 LSC referenced, the requirement was quarterly to test your off-premises monitoring transmission equipment. But with the 2012 LSC, it now references the 2010 edition of NFPA 72 which changed it to be an annual requirement.

But do not make the mistake of just testing the alarm transmission to the central station monitoring agency. This needs to be tested to the fire responder’s location, be it the 9-1-1 center or the local fire department. Many hospitals make the mistake of testing the alarm transmission to just the central station monitoring your fire alarm panel, but the interpretation by CMS and many of the accreditation organizations is you need to confirm that the local fire department received the alarm signal. This can be accomplished during a routine fire drill whereby you do not notify the central station monitoring company but you do notify the local fire department that a drill will be conducted, and tell them to not respond. After you complete the fire drill, contact the fire department to confirm they received the call from the central station monitoring company, and to return to normal response mode.

This test is conducted annually on a general alarm… not on every device that you test.

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.

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.