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How do I know if I can upgrade my fire alarm system or if I have to replace it? Typically there are resources that can be used to help determine whether to upgrade or replace a fire alarm system. A qualified consultant can assist you throughout the project and act as your representative during construction. Another option is to work directly with a fire alarm contractor. If you have experience with fire alarm system projects or if you have a smaller project, you could work with the fire alarm contractor on what is considered a design-build project. Always obtain multiple proposals when signing directly with a fire alarm contractor for a design-build fire alarm system project.
Be aware that when you ask a fire alarm contractor to do a design-build project, you are giving up some control of where devices, cabinets or other hardware might be installed, at least without potentially incurring change orders. If you have a large project or are unfamiliar with the process, consider retaining a qualified consultant. You should also consider using a consultant if project costs, aesthetics, deviations from the existing mandates of your local building codes or other safety considerations are critical in your facility.
The fire alarm system upgrade or replacement project is complete. Now what? Once the fire alarm system has been accepted by the fire department, take great care in deliberately documenting the installation, testing and making any future changes to the system. You will need to maintain the system, whether you do it in-house or hire a service company. Usually, fire alarm contractors offer better pricing for service if you sign a service contract with them at the time of installation. Make sure the installing contractor or equipment supplier performs the annual inspection about 11 months after initial acceptance. That way, any problems with the system will likely be covered under warranty. You will need to fully test the fire alarm system on an annual basis and should perform a visual test every six months.
Traci L. Velez is a senior consultant and fire alarm system designer with Schirmer Engineering Corp. She is a NICET Certified Engineering Technologist and also holds a NICET Level III certification in Fire Alarm Systems. She has worked in the fire protection industry since 2001.
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