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, 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. 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, then no, he is not permitted to replace detector and/or pull stations.

Qualified Technicians

Q: We recently found out that our own maintenance staff is not qualified to service our fire alarm system. What other systems or items in the hospital requires our own technicians to be qualified in order for them to perform the required service?

A: As you mentioned, technicians who test, inspect or maintain the fire alarm system are required to be qualified and experienced, according to NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm Code, 1999 edition. Section 7-1.2.2 list examples of qualified personnel, and includes, but does not limit individuals with the following qualifications:

  • Factory trained and certified
  • National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET), fire alarm certified
  • International Municipal Signal Association (IMSA), fire alarm certified
  • Certified by a state or local authority
  • Trained and qualified personnel employed by an organization listed by a national testing laboratory for the servicing of fire alarm systems.

Other fire safety systems typically found in hospitals where some type of qualification is required, would be:

  • According to NFPA 10 Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers, 1998 edition, section 4-1.4, maintenance, servicing and recharging of portable fire extinguishers must be performed by trained persons having available the appropriate servicing manuals, the proper types of tools, recharge materials, lubricants, and manufacturer’s recommended replacement parts for the use of the extinguishers. Also, according to section 5-1.2 of the same standard, hydrostatic testing on portable fire extinguishers must be performed by persons trained in pressure testing procedures and safeguards, who have suitable testing equipment, facilities and appropriate servicing manuals available. The standard does not list any examples of what ‘trained persons’ mean.
  • Backflow preventers: Persons performing testing and inspection on backflow preventers are typically required to be licensed by the state or local authorities.
  • NFPA 12A, Standard on Halon 1301 Fire Extinguishing Systems, 1997 edition, section 4-1.1 and NFPA 2001, Standard on Clean Agent Fire Extinguishing Systems, 2000 edition (for FM-200 fire suppression systems), section 4-1.1, both say all systems must be thoroughly inspected, tested, and documented for proper operation by trained competent personnel. These standards do not describe what ‘trained competent personnel’ means.
  • NFPA 17A, Standard for Wet Chemical Extinguishing Systems, 1998 edition (for kitchen hood fire suppression systems), section 5-3.1 says a trained person who has undergone the instructions necessary to perform the maintenance and recharge service reliably and has the applicable manufacturer’s listed installation and maintenance manual and service bulletins must service the wet chemical fire extinguishing system 6 months apart.

Where the above standards do not specify what training or qualifications are required, then that determination is left up to the authority having jurisdiction. So far, I have only seen the accreditation organizations request documentation for qualifications of the technicians for fire alarm testing, inspection and maintenance, but that does not mean they couldn’t request documentation on the other issues. As always it is best that you check with your state and local authorities to determine if they have additional requirements or interpretations that you will need to comply with.