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By David G. Petersen
Fire alarm testing and inspections have become big business. Fire alarms are a highly regulated and closely watched part of our everyday lives. The National Fire Protection Association, International Building Code and other code writing bodies have long included the mandatory annual testing of fire alarm systems as a means of good and proper life safety living.
In the latest NFPA edition of the "National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code" book, better known as NFPA 72 – 2016, Chapter 14 reflects present day thinking about testing of fire alarms as well as smoke alarms in residential occupancies.
There is no question as to what needs to be tested, Chapter 14 has page after page of what must be tested and how often. Generally speaking a system must be completely tested annually; however, depending on the size, sections may be tested quarterly as long as at the end of the year the total system is tested.
Who does the testing varies. NFPA 72 126.96.36.199 states that, “Inspection testing or maintenance shall be permitted to be done by the building or system owner or a person or organization other than the building or system owner if conducted under a written contract.”
Can the receptionist test the fire alarm in a high-rise in downtown Boston? The answer is clearly no, according to Section 188.8.131.52 of NFPA 72, titled “Service Personnel Qualifications and Experience.” It refers 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.
However, in some states, depending on the complexity of the system, a licensed electrician should have the knowledge and experience to test a fire alarm system. This same licensed electrician that works for the college or university and is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of all of the electrical systems within the various buildings on campus may be qualified to test the fire alarm system. This would also include the electrician that is the superintendent in one or a group of apartment buildings.
The point is that, if you are not in a building that requires a trained technician because of the many complex interfaces between building systems or that requires special equipment to perform device testing due to extremely high ceilings or other impediments to reaching fire alarm devices, then you may be able to test your own systems and meet the intent of the code to the satisfaction of the local AHJ.
If you think you can, check with your local AHJ and find out for sure.
David G. Petersen is general manager of TC Life Safety, which sells a wide range of fire and life safety products.