Fire Alarm Inspection & Testing Best Practices

Posted by ORR Protection on Jun 24, 2021 9:00:00 AM



At a recent conference, Fire Protection Expert Lee Kaiser dove into fire alarm inspection and testing best practices. Don't miss the video and transcript here to learn more about your system performance codes during testing.



Lee: So, response to impairments.  Now, we've structured our red tag system sort of after the requirements for the Louisiana State Fire Marshal. They have a pretty robust system in Louisiana with the State Fire Marshal's Office taking the lead for a lot of the code enforcement with regard to life safety and we structured our red tag system after them, but they are not the only state that has a strong red tag system inside of it.

Sometimes local fire departments, local regulations require immediate or near immediate notification of an impaired system.

Depending on the jurisdiction, you know, your service contractor should be following those rules, and in general, the codes would say that we need to repair the system within a given timeframe and respond to trouble conditions and supervisory conditions that are on that system within a given timeframe. And then the last page of definitions here, I'm not going to go through each of these, you all have these things in your binders, but, you know, there are official definitions for what is semi-annual, what's annual, what's monthly and you all can read that.

So now let's get specific about systems. Let's start with talking about fire alarm systems. We learned the inspection, testing and maintenance information from Chapter 14 out of the National Fire Alarm, its signaling code, NFPA72, and this is sort of how that chapter is structured, but I want to draw your attention to Table 14.3.1. It's a table that's four pages long and it calls out all the methods and frequencies on the components for inspections. Okay. And then Table is for testing. That's a corresponding table for testing.

And if you were trying to be really strong and the go-to person for knowing what's required for your system in your building, I would recommend in your own version of the code tabbing those two tables and you can look up a lot of information, find a lot of a, boil a lot of things down and get some quick answers to your questions just by knowing those two tables exist in the code. So, we're going to start by talking about the panels and then we're going to move out to devices.

So, inspections. Semi-annually, so twice a year, we're supposed to check the fire panel in our building or fire panels for normal conditions. So, it's a very simple inspection. Go to the panels and see is there a little green light next to the word "Normal" or does it say "Normal" on the display, and we want to check that twice a year just to make sure it's in normal condition and not in one of these other three conditions. Now, fire alarm systems are either in normal, alarm, trouble or supervisory.

And so, if a system is in alarm condition we're going to know it because, you know, the noisemakers are going to be making noise and light flashers are going to be flashing and we're going to know that the system is in alarm and that's going to be overwhelmingly annoying and we're going to fix that condition or rip it out of the panel like we saw in our early example, which we would never want to do.  Now, there's two other conditions. Trouble and supervisory. Just as a little background information, "Trouble", if your system is in a "Trouble" condition it means that something in the fire alarm system is broken.

If it's in "Supervisory" condition that means that some other system that the fire alarm system is being used to monitor is in an off-normal condition. So, "Trouble" means something is wrong with the fire alarm system itself, "Supervisory" means it's some other system that's supervised is in a non-normal state. And so, we're supposed to do an annual inspection on the panel looking at these items, but frankly, and we'll go through those because all those things get tested during the annual test. Let's talk about that. Annually, once a year, we're supposed to test the fire alarm panel, all the functions of the panel, do the lamps or LEDs light up, do all the buttons function, test the fuses inside.

Understand that we uses fuses in systems usually as part of a battery charging circuit, and so one thing that we're supposed to do is make sure that those are all correct, and when they are removed, we get a, their supervision of it, so fire alarm systems are self-supervising to make sure that they work, so when we remove that fuse it sees that it's broken and it generates a trouble condition. That can be a little confusing when we tie in supervision in trouble, but that's what happens when it's on the fire alarm system. We get a trouble. We test the sequence of operation of that system.

We're going to talk a lot about this at the bonus session, but the sequence of operation testing means the correct inputs, do they generate the right outputs from the system. So, test the input/output relation. Circuit supervision.

So again, fire alarm circuits are monitored for their proper performance so when we remove a terminal block where wires land for that circuit, we should get a trouble condition seeing that that circuit's non-functional. Test the power supply and batteries. You know, we will talk a lot about that in the next couple slides. Test the network panel communication. So, some buildings are large enough to have multiple fire alarm panels. If their network together need to communicate we need to test that communication between panels every year and then test communication to any remote enunciators.

If we for one reason or another need to have a remote display showing what's happening in our fire alarm panel and another more convenient location, we use a remote enunciator to do that and so we need to make sure that that enunciator gives us all the functionality that's supposed to in our building. The power supply.

Fire alarm systems should be arranged to have two sources of power supply. We call them the primary supply and the secondary supply. Primary supply is normal building power, the same thing that's lighting the lights and powering our projector here today. That's normal power. Usually 120‑volt AC power. Now, the secondary power should be there when the primary power goes away, so most of the time we do that with batteries, and so we need to have batteries in there.  In this power supply testing piece that we do annually, we need to test all those.

So, the way that we test the primary power supply, first off, we shut off the breaker that powers the panel to make sure that the panel recognizes that the primary power is gone, would give us a trouble condition and then it would automatically get caught by the batteries and operate it off the batteries. Then we restore the power and disconnect the secondary power.

We're going to disconnect the batteries. Take the terminals off those batteries and then we operate the panel under primary power. So, we operate it in normal condition and then we operate it under load, and the code says under load, but that really means is we put it into alarm. So, that's when we have a higher amperage draw from the system so all the light flashers are flashing, noisemakers are making noise and we operate all the alarm appliances simultaneously.

Now, in big systems where we have multiple zones and notification, the code does allow us to activate them by zone. So maybe we have one zone per floor and we could activate by floor and in large buildings. The secondary power supply. First off, we want to make sure that the panel detects the loss of the batteries and then we're going to operate the system just off the batteries.  So, the primary power gets again disconnected at the breaker and then we just run it off of the batteries. This is where we do a longer test to make sure that the batteries are adequate for the facility.

While we're doing that we measure the current demand off the batteries using, you know, a multi-meter or something like that and then we'll measure the alarm current demand. So, we'll put it in under load into alarm and then we'll let it run for 5 minutes. We want to verify operation of all the alarm appliances for 5 minutes for normal fire alarm systems. Now, that extends to 15 minutes when we have voice fire alarm systems because the code says we need to have capacity for 15 minutes of operation and then we're again allowed to activate by zone for large systems.

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