Fire alarm systems are a critical building life safety component that require ongoing inspection and maintenance to ensure they operate properly during a fire. When an existing building undergoes renovation, and impairments may occur to passive and active fire protection systems, it is critical that systems that remain online are working properly, as the fire hazard in the building increases due to the presence of construction. Occasionally, however, existing fire protection systems in buildings under renovation are found to be lacking required maintenance or simply not functioning.
The Massachusetts Comprehensive Fire Safety Code (527 CMR 1.00) requires inspection, testing and maintenance of fire alarm systems be performed in accordance with the provisions of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. Inspection, testing, and maintenance requirements in NFPA 72 are contained in Chapter 14.
As stated previously, the purpose of inspection, testing and maintenance is to ensure the fire alarm system is functioning properly. This includes both visual inspection and functional testing. Both are required, because some physical impairments, such as the fire alarm panel being blocked by storage, a dust cover being left on a smoke detector, or a heat detector not mounted to the ceiling, may render the device or the system itself inoperable.
Visual inspection ensures devices have not been physically damaged, covered, obscured, or even removed and bypassed. Functional testing ensures devices are performing within their listed parameters, for example a smoke detector triggering an alarm signal after being tested with canned smoke. The number of functional tests for different components are too numerous to list here but are described along with their prescribed test frequency in NFPA 72, Table 184.108.40.206.
Fire alarm systems can be integrated with many other life safety systems, such the sprinkler system, smoke control systems, other specialized extinguishing systems, generators, and elevators. Integrated systems may be supervised by the alarm system and may generate fire alarm-initiating signals and/or receive output signals from the alarm panel. Where other systems are installed and maintained under a separate NFPA standard, their inspection and testing is performed under their respective standard. These systems may require separately licensed, specialized technicians to safely operate or reset controls that the fire alarm company cannot perform. Signal initiation from an integrated system, which does not have to include actual system activation, or receipt of an output signal, are the extent of the fire alarm test requirements.
The testing of fire alarm components should include activation of notification appliances – audible and visual alarms. In office buildings, this testing may preferably be conducted off-hours. In a residential building, it is likely that the testing takes place during the day. Newer fire alarm systems may include automatic self-test modes; these self-tests should be verified.
Who May Inspect
Responsibility for periodic inspection, testing and maintenance falls upon the building owner or their designated representative. This is required both by 527 CMR 1.00 (Section 10.2) and NFPA 72 (Section 14.2.3). In Massachusetts, a person testing a fire alarm system (also referred to as a fire warning system) must be licensed by the Board of State Examiners of Electricians, in accordance with 237 CMR.
A building owner may be asked at any time to present documentation of up-to-date inspection, testing, and maintenance any time by Fire Department officials, and those records are required to be maintained for at least one year. This request can be initiated for many reasons, including during a regularly scheduled inspection, as part of a permit application, or in response to a complaint. Any records that are maintained should be organized, such as in a binder organized by system and date; or can be electronically maintained. Regardless of what system is utilized, the inspection reports should identify any discrepancies noted during the inspection as well as remedial action that was taken.
If you have any questions regarding fire alarm system maintenance or fire alarms during renovation projects, please contact our office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-500-7633.