During the MCFP Virtual Conference series, expert Lee Kaiser, covers testing fire alarm maintenance. In the video below, watch as Lee dives in-depth for what goes into running fire panel testing and maintenance.
Batteries have testing requirements. While we're testing power supplies we'll be looking at these things for the batteries. Batteries are supposed to be permanently marked with a date of manufacture.
UL-listed fire alarm batteries as they're produced, if they're intended for fire alarm use they need to be marked with the month and year that they were manufactured and then we have in the codes it says that batteries in the panels need to be replaced 5 years after the date of manufacture.
People mix this up. It's not after the date of installation. It's after the date of manufacture because depending on where you buy your batteries, those batteries could sit on the shelf for 1 or 2 years and shorten that life span. Some fire alarm panels manufacturers require more frequent replacement, so they call for 3 years. They're trying to acknowledge that supply chain issue where they may sit on the shelf for a while.
One thing that you could do is also check the health of the existing batteries of the tester. If you want to know a little bit more detailed information about your battery condition, there's a device that SDI Fire sells. This is a cell checker and it does a quick health check of those batteries. It takes about 2 minutes to cycle through the health of the battery and it tells you what it is. It's not code required, but it is an option and is the highest standard of inspection and testing on the batteries.
We recommend if you have a service contractor for fire alarm testing, that you write in battery replacement into the service contract and you pay ahead for that. The reason is financial. A pair of batteries costs about $90.00. Add labor for installation and you are at $110.00. So, $110.00 every 2 years to get those batteries replaced will probably be part of your service contract.
If you don't write that in and you don't have automatic replacement of those batteries and one of those batteries goes down, and you get a trouble condition on your panel, you don't want that. You make an emergency service call to your contractor. Emergency service call is going to cost about $400.00, maybe $500.00 to replace those batteries and we replace a lot of batteries for that cost. Writing that into your service contract will save you money over the long run.
We need to annually test signal receipt, so signals that we receive at the fire alarm panel from these devices. Release fire alarm panels that form suppression systems, fire pump controllers or smoke control panels. Remote supervision testing; now we're sending a signal from our fire alarm panel outside of our building off site to a remote supervising station.
During testing, we call monitoring services, central stations, and alarm services. In essence, we want to make sure that at minimum we send alarm, trouble and supervisory signals from our panels to that off-site location so they can record what's happened and then pick up the phone and call the appropriate people.
For alarms, they call the fire department. For trouble and supervisory, they're going to call the responsible person at your building. The annual test is to make sure that the monitoring service receives those signals within 90 seconds and that's the minimum standard.
if you have an addressable fire alarm panel where you get more location information from your building and we call that Point ID. We verify that that Point ID is sending along with those signals so that the monitoring service knows to pass on where that fire condition is in the building to the fire department as they're getting dispatched.
Moving from the panel, out to the devices, let's talk about smoke detectors. We'll talk about spot smoke detectors that, a lot of time is installed at the ceiling. They need to be inspected twice a year. So, during the semi-annual inspections, we're looking for issues of location and mounting. We need to know some of the code information of how it should be installed. We're looking for physical damage, is it mounted correctly, is it dirty or obstructed, are there things that would affect its operation during a fire and slow its response to smoke. These are all visual at this point of the inspection.
Is there any increased airflow rate? Some of the customers that show up a lot of times from mission critical spaces will install new air handling in their spaces and we want, the code says to look for that. If there's an increased airflow rate, the detector spacing would need to go down for the delusion that that increased airflow rate would cause on that smoke. Do we need to space our detectors closer together so we can identify that in the field and then we can, rectify that situation and install more detectors.
As a rule of thumb for fire alarm systems, we do inspections twice a year and we do testing annually, one time a year. So, inspections twice a year on fire alarm systems tests just once a year.
Smoke Detector Tests
For smoke detectors we do two different tests; we do an annual and functional response test. Our jargon for this test is a smoke test. We're going to go out and smoke the detectors. We're testing as we apply smoke to go into the detection chamber. Does that detector function? Does it send an alarm signal into the panel? If so, we test every detector in the building and test for signal receipt of the panel. One of the ways that we do that is with smoke. This is a can of aerosol smoke because that's fun to do in front of a crowd. We issue a little bit of smoke to the detector and if it goes into alarm that works.
There's a couple cheats that we could do here? So, a lot of technicians carry a magnet on the end of a telescopic pole. With that magnet they can wave it in front of a detector and it will activate that detector. It's useful for testing system sequences, but it doesn't meet the intent of the smoke test. This picture shows a technician using a smoke pole; a testing device intended to test detectors from the ground.