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Aug 2, 2021

This Episode is sponsored by Wachter.

Welcome to episode 13 of the solocast of Fire Code Tech! On this episode we are talking about fire alarm essentials. In this episode we seek to touch on the fundamentals of fire alarm codes and standards, component architecture, and key definitions. Don’t forget you can get two more solocasts a month and extra bonus content at



Hello. Welcome to the solo cast of fire code tech in these episodes. It's just gonna be me, your host, Gus Gagliardi. There's gonna be a range of topics, but I'm gonna talk about specific technologies, installation, standards, codes, and how they work as well as some other interesting topics that don't neatly fit inside of the context of a normal I.

Hello. All welcome to episode 13 of the solo cast of fire code tech. On this episode, we're talking fire alarm basics. I wanna give a big shout out to our sponsor for this episode, which is Waner, we're gonna give some more detailed information about Waner later on in this episode tune in. Yes. I wanted to dive into some more detailed topics about fire alarm, and I realized that, uh, unlike the sprinkler systems that I had not gone through the basics and talked about, um, some of the things that are near and dear to my heart.

What is a fire alarm system? What are the codes and standards around fire alarm systems? Um, how do you know when you need a fire alarm system and many more of the basic topics that I've been trying to cover about all fire and life safety systems? So on this episode, I'm gonna do my best to lay the groundwork for many more discussions on fire alarm systems.

So bear with me. If some of this information is a little bit rudimentary or, uh, very initial. Don't forget to subscribe. So you never miss an episode and follow us on social media. Oh. And if you want to give the show a big help, you can go give us a review on apple podcasts, five stars, please. All right.

Enough with the setup info, let's get into the show. So I always like to begin our discussions with what are the codes and standards around fire alarm systems. I think it's important, uh, almost as important as the definition of what is a fire alarm system. We'll just start off by saying that the codes around fire alarm systems in the us in, uh, majority of the us is the, the international building code will tell you in which buildings or occupancies or facilities, which you will need a fire alarm.

You'll have to forgive me. If I belabor this point, I run into a lot of people in my day job as a fire protection engineer, who, um, there are misconceptions around codes and standards and how they function. So really one of the things that I wanted to drive home with the podcast is how codes and standards work.

So I like to start with the codes are the international building code as adopted by your jurisdiction in which you're doing work. And then we look at chapter nine, which is fire protection systems and the building code. And so within chapter nine, there is section 9 0 7, which is fire alarm and detection systems.

Another reason why I think this is so important is because. You know, you might go through the whole exercise of designing and implementing a fire alarm system for a building. And then the owner comes back and, and, and asks you, or, you know, and I don't know what situation you'd be using this information, but they might ask you if one is actually required.

And so if we don't start at the codes, then you might not understand when these systems are required and when they're not required. And as much as I am an advocate for fire and life safety. I don't want compliance or, uh, the misunderstanding of compliance being at the basis of, uh, the learning or information that the podcast provides.

So assuming you're looking at a new building and you're trying to determine if this building in fact requires a fire alarm system, you take a look in the international building code, which is applicable in chapter nine, section 9 0 7. And this is the section in the building code, which describes when and where these systems are.

So as we talk about when and where these systems are required, it is heavily based on what kind of occupancy that you're looking at, uh, protecting from a perspective of fire and life safety. So you're, you know, what kind of occupancy you have and the building features you have is always what drives the.

Fire and life safety features for a building. So we have to first start at the occupancy and the, you know, some of the other fire and life safety factors that drive the, um, necessity for these systems. I won't get too deep into the special occupancy provisions of fire alarm systems since this is our first discussion on the subject, but suffice it to say that there.

Um, a series of factors, depending on the occupancy in which you are working in that help you determine, uh, what type of fire alarm system and the features that are required on your fire alarm system in chapter nine, section 9 0 7, um, which is the section for fire alarm systems. Now let's move our discussion towards the installation standard for fire alarm systems, which is NFPA 70.

The national fire alarm and signaling code. So I've probably already gone too long without, you know, talking about what is a fire alarm system. Uh, but I just wanted to get the, the baseline of the codes and standards around fire alarm systems so that if somebody was. Listening to this and trying to get a sense of how to evaluate the, the technology in question, they would get that information out there.

So a fire alarm dis system is described in NFPA 72 as a system or a portion. A system or a portion of a combination system that consists of components and circuits arranged to monitor and enunciate the status of a fire alarm, supervisory signal, initiating devices, and to initiate the appropriate response to those signals.

So. You can see that in the, you know, in the name of the, the installation standard, it's the national signaling code. So a fire alarm is a system which interprets signals and conditions and provides a response. So if you've ever had the opportunity to look at a input output matrix for a fire alarm system, it is very clear.

For a set of inputs, there are a variety of outputs. And so an example of one of these inputs and outputs. And initiate a device such as a smoke detector, detects the presence of smoke and initiates an alarm signal to the fire alarm control panel that we have a component of a fire alarm system that is providing an alarm signal.

So that's the input. And what is the response? The response is often a variety of things that the supervising station is notified. That, that notification appliances are activated. And so this is kind of one of the very fundamental aspects of fire alarm systems. There is a condition and a response. So let's talk about this a little bit more.

Let's let's, you know, discuss the term condition condition is, you know, as defined at NFP 72 as a situation, environmental state, or equipment state of a fire alarm or signaling system. So think of this as. A status. So a fire alarm system is a very specialized computer, a proprietary computer system. And so it is constantly monitoring the status of certain things, the status of initiating device, the status of, um, you know, uh, duct detectors, which is a supervising signal.

And we can talk about these. Different, um, conditions. So there's alarm conditions, supervisory conditions, trouble conditions. And then there's, um, a couple other others that are less common, but these are the main ones. So I'll go in order of severity, but let's start off with alarm condition. Alarm condition is defined in 3, 360 1, 1 1 in NFPA 72 as an abnormal condition that poses an immediate threat to life property, or.

You can think of these alarm conditions as manual pool stations, smoke detectors, heat detectors, water flow also is an alarm condition. Think of an alarm as, Hey, we definitely have a problem and we need to send the system into full alarm mode or let's tell the occupants that something is wrong right now.

Next step we have supervisory condition. Is defined as an abnormal condition in connection with the supervision of other systems, processes, or equipment. So the most common one that comes to mind is duct detectors for supervisory conditions. Um, this is where you're gonna find many of your integrated systems is in the supervisory supervisory section.

So if you're monitoring other systems, um, this is when you would get a supervisory. So I can think of like monitoring, uh, kitchen, fire, suppression hood. Or, uh, there's a, a litany of different supervisory conditions, but, um, that's to give you some sense of what those are. And so the last one is trouble condition and.

This is stated as an abnormal condition in a system due to a fault. And so this can literally be a ground fault in the system, uh, depending on your, uh, circuit type, it could be an open ground or a fault. Think of your trouble conditions as if you have power, uh, power issues or, um, problems that will inhibit the system from behaving in the way that it's supposed to.

So trouble is generally like, Hey, something's not right within the system. This needs attention. I want to take a moment to talk about our sponsor today. Ter wa is a family owned business to provide services in many commercial and industrial market sectors, including electrical and fire alarm systems, the internet of things, digital transformation, and much, much more blocker is headquartered out of Lenexa, Kansas, but is decentralized in that.

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So at its base elements, you have the panel, which is the brains of the system. Uh, you can think about this as the, you know, just controlling everything for this system. Generally you have primary and secondary power to this, uh, computer. Um, these systems are generally proprietary, so. If you are working with an installer, uh, generally they will have some preference in what they install.

So they may not install, um, every type of fire alarm system. Along with the panel, you have, uh, initiation devices. In pretty much every system, I can't think of a system unless you have like a dedicated function system. Um, but, uh, if it would not have any initiating devices on it, the initiating device can be a variety of things.

And, you know, we could dedicate a whole episode to initiating devices, but think of anything that can cause a, uh, by alarm system to go into alarm. Uh, is usually the culprit for initiating devices. So manual pool station, smoke detectors, heat detectors, uh, beam detectors. Uh, so, uh, water flow switches, um, anything to initiate a signal or detect the presence of fire.

Um, generally. Falls under the category of initiating device. If you want to look in the building code and find where these devices are required. You can, and that would be in 9 0 7, where, uh, it would tell you in what specific instances, and there are other places in the building code that we'll talk about where initiating devices are required, uh, where smoke detectors are required or where manual pool stations are required.

The other big component piece of fire alarm systems is a notification appliances. So when you're, we're talking about. Protected premises, fire alarm systems. There are requirements for notification appliances. So these notification appliances can be in the form of horn STRs. Uh, so that's horns or shrubs.

A horn is. An audible device that can have a couple of different patterns of notification, but the most common is the temporal three pattern. So it's like, I don't think I'll do the, the vocal representation of it, cuz it's just too goofy. But um, it's like a three tone. You can Google it. You'll find it real quick.

Temporal three and then so. And then strobes are self explanatory, but they will flashlight. And so you have visible and audible signals indicating to the occupants of the building, that there is a emergency happening. So in voice evacuation systems, there are speaker STRs. So you can have speakers, you can have strobes, or you can have combination devices, which will have both much the same as horn STRs.

I think of fire alarm systems, these three kind of things. So mass notification systems, emergency voice communication systems, and then horn drug systems. There are a lot of different options. There are single and multiple family, uh, fire alarm systems, and that's what would be in your home most times. And then there are dedicated function, fire alarm systems.

So if you have a, uh, you can have a fire alarm panel that only does one thing. Maybe if you had a fire alarm panel that was only used. Emergency elevator functions or pre action, uh, monitoring and or releasing panel for pre action or foam systems. So there are a number of different types of fire alarm system.

So just to go over a little bit more about how the codes and standards function around fire alarm systems. So like we discussed before. The building code and the fire code will tell you when and where your fire alarm system is required and what features it should have. And then NFPA 72 will detail the installation, the requirements for shop drawings and design drawings, as well as in depth detail on the different varieties of.

Fire alarm systems. And so if you wanna look up the, uh, specific location criteria of initiating devices or notification appliances, you would find that in NFPA 72, but if you wanted to find out that if you are assembly building, if it needed a fire alarm system or not, you would find that in 9 0 7 of the building code, So I just wanted to touch on that a little bit more because I think that sometimes it can be confusing to, uh, understand where to go from these requirements since they work so closely together.

Next step, let's talk about the layout of NFPA 72. It's very common NFPA. 70 two's layout is very similar to. Many NFPAs in that the first four chapters are the same layout as all the other NFPAs. Chapter one being administration chapter two, being reference publications, chapter three, being definitions.

The beginning of the document is very similar, but if you have any experience with NFPA documents, you might notice that. If you take a look at an FPA 13, an FPA 72, an FPA 1 0 1, an FPA 20, they are all same and different, same in their general layout in that they have similar beginning chapters and, and in chapters.

So they end with the annex and the index, and they begin with the same, the first three or four chapters, but the, the meat of the standard or the middle. Is, uh, different and in FBA, 72 is a little bit different in that it has a bunch of reserved chapters. Uh, I believe it is because of all of the, um, technology and, you know, fire alarm system is a computer and there's kind of so much emerging.

And developing with fire alarm systems all the time, because technology is, uh, evolving at such a quick pace. So that's an interesting caveat to how NFPA 72 is different from other NFPA standards. You know, so if you're looking at NFPA 72, And you want to, um, learn about what required for these systems? I would say start off in chapter 10, which is fundamentals, always the doc, the definitions is a great spot to get a good idea of what's going on.

And then I use chapter seven, which is documentation a lot, because this is what tells the, the contractor and the engineer, what they need to provide. In their documents. And then also there is, uh, you know, all of these notification appliances and initiating devices need to be wired up. And there are different types of circuit I integrities and.

Different ways that pathways can be laid out. And so, yeah, it's, it's interesting. And I think it's different. And to me, fire alarm systems are harder than sprinkler systems because, um, they're computers and they have programming and they are very com complicated. They're very specific. And sometimes they can be straightforward when they're small.

But obviously they get very complex with complex fire alarm systems. So that's just a little bit about the layout of NFPA 72, but I just wanted to speak about that a little bit. Well, I think that's gonna cover it. We're already at 20 minutes here and there'll be plenty more on fire alarm systems, but I wanted to talk about some really base level topics about fire alarm systems.

I hope you enjoyed. We'll see you next time on fire code tech. Thanks for listening. Everybody. Be sure to share the episode with a friend, if you enjoyed it, don't forget that fire protection and life safety is serious business. The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are by no means a professional consultation or a codes and standards interpretation.

Be sure to contact a licensed professional. If you are getting involved with fire protection and or life safety. Thanks again. And we'll see you next time.