During the MCFP Virtual Conference series, expert Lee Kaiser, covers testing fire alarm panels. In the video below, watch as Lee dives in-depth for what goes into running a fire panel inspection.
Response to impairments
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 in regard to life safety. We structured our red tag system after them, but they are not the only state that has a strong red tag system.
Sometimes local fire departments & local regulations require immediate or near immediate notification of an impaired system. Depending on the jurisdiction your service contractor should be following those rules.
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.
Fire Alarm Inspection and Testing
We learned the inspection, testing and maintenance information from Chapter 14 out of the National Fire Alarm, and its signaling code, NFPA72,
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 184.108.40.206 is for testing. That's a corresponding table for testing.
If you were trying to be really strong and be the go-to person for knowing what's required for your system in your building, I would recommend the code tabbing of Table 14.3.1 & Table 220.127.116.11. Those two tables can help you look up a lot of information and get you quick answers to your questions just by knowing those two tables exist.
We're going to start by talking about panels and then we're going to move out to devices.
Semi-annually, so twice a year, we're supposed to check the fire panel in our building or fire panels for normal conditions. It's a very simple inspection. Go to the panels and see if there is a little green light next to the word "Normal" or if it says "Normal" on the display. 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.
Fire alarm systems are either in normal, alarm, trouble or supervisory condition. If a system is in alarm condition we're going to know it because, the noisemakers are going to be making noise and light flashers are going to be flashing. When the system is in alarm it's going to be overwhelmingly annoying and we're going to fix that condition or rip it out the panel, which we would never want to do.
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 in the fire alarm system is being used to monitor is in an off-normal condition.
We're supposed to do an annual inspection on the panel looking at these items, but frankly, they typically get tested during the annual test. Annually, 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.
The fuses in systems usually are a part of a battery charging circuit, so one thing that we're supposed to do, is make sure that those are all correct. When they are removed, the fire alarm systems are self-supervising, so when we remove that fuse it sees that it's broken and it generates a trouble condition. We also test the sequence of operation of that system.
This is a bonus session, but the sequence of operation testing means the correct inputs, generate the right outputs from the system. So, you'll test the input/output relation. Fire alarm circuits are monitored for their proper performance. If you remove a terminal block where wires land for that circuit, we should get a trouble condition seeing that circuit's non-functional. In that case test the power supply and batteries, and test the network panel communication.
Some buildings are large enough to have multiple fire alarm panels. If their network needs to communicate we need to test that communication between panels every year and then test communication to any remote enunciators. If for one reason or another we 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, so we need to make sure that that enunciator gives us all the functionality that's supposed to in our building.
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.
The secondary power should be there when the primary power goes away, so most of the time we do that with batteries, so we need to have batteries in there. During the power supply testing piece that we do annually, we need to test all those. The way we test the primary power supply is; we shut off the breaker that powers the panel to make sure that the panel recognizes that the primary power is gone, make sure there is a trouble condition and that system automatically gets caught by the batteries and operates off the batteries.
Then we restore the power and disconnect the secondary power and disconnect the batteries. Take the terminals off those batteries and then we operate the panel under primary power. Then we operate it in normal conditions and then operate it under load. The code says under load, but that really means is we put it into alarm. That triggers 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.
In big systems where we have multiple zones and notification, the code does allow us to activate them by zone. Sometimes we have one zone per floor and we could activate by floor and in large buildings. With the secondary power supply, we want to make sure that the panel detects the loss of the batteries and then operates the system just off the batteries. The primary power gets 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 with a multi-meter or something like that and then we'll measure the alarms current demand. We'll put it in under load into alarm and then we'll let it run for 5 minutes. We want to verify the operation of all the alarm appliances for 5 minutes for normal fire alarm systems. 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.