How to test a Fire Alarm...

Posted by Dave Petersen on 6/30/2016

Back in March I posted a Blog entitled "Who can test a Fire Alarm?"

There is a paragraph in that blog that states:

 " The obvious question here is, can the receptionist test the fire alarm in a high-rise in downtown Boston? The answer is NO, she cannot, 14.2.3.6 titled Service Personnel Qualifications and Experience states otherwise. Referring us to section 10.5.3 which basically says that the person doing the work must have knowledge and experience and also must be at a level acceptable to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). So if your State, County or Local AHJ says you need to have a license, factory certification, and be employed by a licensed Testing and Inspection corporation you need to be just that to test a fire alarm system."

Why?

There are many reasons for these training and licensing requirements:

  • Complexity of the interconnection of various building systems to the Fire Alarm
  • Control-By-Event programming of the Fire Alarm
  • Code Compliance!
  • Notifying building owners, occupants, fire officials and/or Central Station Monitoring
  • Taking sections of the system down or off-line for testing while leaving untested areas intact and functioning
  • Checking IDCs, NACs and SLCs for Opens, Shorts and Ground detection
  • Basic device testing with the sheer number of device types takes education and experience

Then there is the equipment necessary to perform the test, a simple can of test gas is not going to cut it.

The diversity of detection devices in a large or High-Rise building can include Heat Detectors, Smoke Beam Detectors, UV/IR Flame and Ember Detectors, Duct Detectors, Multicriteria Detectors, CO Detectors, Pull Stations, Water Flow, the list goes on...

A testing company needs to be well versed in not just the Fire Alarm functionality, but also in the diversity of detection in the building and how to effeciently and effectively test each type so that it is measureable and in line with the manufacturer's specifications.

Sensitivity for detectors is a mandated test that needs to be done per NFPA Table 14.4.2.2 item (g).

If you have an Analog/Addressable Fire Alarm system, then you can choose to have the control panel test and report the Detector Sensitivity if it is Listed to do so. This is an internal process within the intelligence of the system and its compatible detectors and has been tested and verified by a NRTL as part of the total system functionality. Once the Sensitivity of the devices has been verified, the need to verify "smoke entry" still needs to be done, so each device still has to be visited and tested with some kind of test gas/smoke or whatever is approved and/or included in the manufacturer's instructions.

If you have a conventional or a strictly Addressable system, then you need to test the sensitivity with an external device that controls the amount of test gas/smoke and allows you to verify that the detector is within operting parameters and this also satisfies the "smoke entry" question.

The remaining devices all need to be tested and the NFPA 72 Table 14.4.2.2 gives you the methodology for doing so.

NFPA 72 Table 14.4.5 is a listing of all Fire Alarm System functions and devices and the frequency each function and device must be tested. This includes Smokes, Heats, Batteries, Annunciators, Notification Appliances (one of the most neglected portion of the tests IMHO), Reporting, etc...

So it is not just about making the smoke detector or pull station cause an alarm, it is the health of the system and its programming, the interface to other building systems, the condition of the control's supervisory and trouble reporting circuits that need to be tested and verified as well.

It it why we licensed Fire Alarm Technicians must go to refresher courses periodically to keep our skills and knowledge up to date.

It is why Associations like the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (AFAA), American Society of Certified Engineering Technicians (ASCET) and International Municipal Signalmen's Association (IMSA) are in existance. These Associations and others like them train and educate the industry as well as influence Code and Law to make us, our lives and livelihoods more professional, up-to-date and involved.

Check them out at:


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