Can Voice Fire Alarms Be Used for Other Purposes?

Learn NFPA 72 requirements for voice alarm systems.

By Wayne D. Moore and Larry D. Rietz, Contributing Writers  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: NFPA 72 Requirements for Fire Alarm Notification SystemsPt. 2: This PagePt. 3: Fire Alarms: Tone-Only Vs. Voice SystemsPt. 4: OSHA Requirements for Fire Alarm Notification Systems

While a fire alarm system and a fire suppression system are always interconnected, they need to be looked at separately. A fire alarm system provides detection of a fire and notification of that fire to the occupants and generally sends that notification to a monitoring agency who reports the fire to the fire department and then to appropriate site personnel.

This Q&A series is written to help facility managers ensure that their fire alarm systems fully meet applicable requirements of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, the model fire alarm systems installation standard that is incorporated into almost all Building, Fire, and local codes.

1. Does NFPA 72 permit me to use my voice fire alarm system for anything other than fire emergencies?  

Yes, but only if certain conditions are met. The first requirement is to ensure that the loudspeakers and associated audio equipment are installed or located with safeguards to resist tampering or mis-adjustment of components essential for intended emergency notification. The second condition is that the monitoring integrity requirements of NFPA 72 chapters 10 and 12 continues to be met while the system is used for non-emergency purposes.

Generally, tampering is usually attempted to reduce the output of a sound system that is in constant use, such as background music or paging announcements, and that could be a source of annoyance to employees. The likelihood of tampering can be reduced through proper consideration of loudspeaker accessibility and system operation.

2. Does NFPA 72 allow my fire alarm system to be connected to other paging or public address systems in my facility? Can I use the speakers in those systems for fire alarm notification?  

When the fire alarm system uses tone-only notification appliances such as horns or bells, rather than using loudspeakers, the answer to both questions is no. As noted in a previous answer, a mixture of different types of audible notification appliances within a space is not recommended.

When the fire alarm system does use loudspeakers as in an EVACS, those loudspeakers can be used for paging, but generally the reverse is not true. There are exceptions but usually only where the AHJ is convinced the paging system is of superior quality, has all of the monitoring features found in a fire alarm system, and provides an operational “comfort factor” for the AHJ to allow the integration of a non-fire-alarm-listed paging system with a fire alarm system. Chapter 24 of NFPA 72 does allow the use of paging systems, public address systems, and house sound systems (with a review by the design engineer) for mass notification systems.

3. Under NFPA 72, can my fire alarm system also serve as a general paging system?  

Yes. The EVACS serving your building can also be used as a paging system providing the requirements outlined in the previous answer are met. NFPA now believes that if an EVACS is used for paging, the reliability of operation will improve. The reasoning is if someone cannot hear a page, they will report the issue to maintenance and the system will be returned to full working order much faster than if they wait for a trouble signal to be investigated or waiting for an annual inspection to identify an issue.

Wayne D. Moore is a licensed professional fire protection engineer with over 45 years of engineering experience. Moore currently serves on the NFPA 72 Correlating Committee and Chapter 24 Technical Committee (past Chair), as well as being an editor of five editions of the “National Fire Alarm Code Handbook.”  
Larry D. Rietz, is a NICET Level IV Certified fire alarm designer with more than 29 years of life safety industry experience. Rietz is Vice President and Global Service Line Leader for Fire Detection and Alarm for Jensen Hughes and serves on the NFPA 72 Chapter 24 and 12, 21, & 23 Technical Committees. 

Contact FacilitiesNet Editorial Staff »

  posted on 6/11/2024   Article Use Policy

Related Topics: