The New NFPA 72® — the 2013 Edition

The New NFPA 72® — the 2013 Edition
by Todd Warner, product manager for the fire alarm product line (January, 2013)
NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, sets the industry’s minimum safety criteria for the installation, testing, and maintenance of fire detection, signaling, and emergency communications systems. In recent years, the scope of the code has grown to cover requirements for mass notification systems used for public notification of events, such as weather emergencies, terrorist alerts, and potential nuclear power plant emergencies.The latest revision of NFPA 72 is the 2013 edition (available in print as well as electronically). It’s tough to beat the quantity and significance of the changes of the 2010 edition, which was a major reorganization of the document, but the new code has some very interesting updates that impact the industry. Some of the changes forecast the technological future of the industry, like the continual evolution of signal transmission. Staying abreast of new code updates that regulate our industry is important, since they impact our business. But the main reason to stay abreast of the changes to the code is so our industry professionals, who install and maintain these systems, can continue to provide the highest level of safety.The new edition was voted on in June of 2012 by the NFPA membership at their annual convention in Las Vegas, then approved by the NFPA Standards Council, becoming effective on August 29, 2012. Following are the most notable organizational and technological changes that are of interest:Documentation Chapter Added
The most noticeable change is the addition of a chapter dedicated to documentation. For years, code users have turned pages in an effort to find all the references to documentation. With the 2013 edition of NFPA 72, a user need only turn to Chapter 7, Documentation. Many of the recommendations previously found in the annex now appear in the chapter as requirements. The following list represents the minimum documentation requirements for all systems:

Minimum Documentation Requirements:

  1. Written narrative providing intent and system description
  2. Riser diagram
  3. Floor plan layout showing location of all devices and control equipment
  4. Sequence of operation in either an input/output matrix or narrative form
  5. Equipment technical data sheets
  6. Manufacturers’ published instructions, including operation and maintenance instructions
  7. Battery calculations, where batteries are provided
  8. Voltage drop calculations for notification appliance circuits
  9. Completed record of inspection and testing in accordance with 7.6.6 and 7.8.2
  10. Completed record of completion in accordance with 7.5.6 and 7.8.2
  11. Copy of site-specific software, where applicable
  12. Record (as-built) drawings
  13. Periodic inspection, testing, and maintenance documentation in accordance with Section 7.6
  14. Records, record retention, and record maintenance in accordance with Section 7.7

Most of these documents are familiar to users of the code; however, references to a written narrative only appeared in the annex previously. The purpose of the narrative is to provide a description of the work to be performed. This narrative could be very complex or be as simple as “install three additional smoke detectors for coverage of the newly installed meeting room.” The level of detail in the narrative will depend on the scope of the work performed. It is important that the technician understand the intent of the designer in order to perform proper installation, programming, and maintenance of the system.In addition to these minimum requirements, the code includes detailed requirements for design, installation, and completion documentation. Although every project might not require all of the details outlined, the intent of providing the additional documents is that they can be used as needed. The more complex the system, the more important these documents become, especially after the system has been operational for a number of years.

In the 2010 edition, the Record of Completion form was modified to be comprehensive, including every possible system option, but it was found to be too cumbersome for many users. So for 2013, the code allows the Record of Completion to be altered to contain only the elements applicable to the installed system. This subtle change makes this important document more useable. A provision allows for an electronic Record of Completion as well. Extensive annex material has been developed to assist code users in preparing all required documentation.

These documents are required to be maintained for the life of the system and updated whenever revisions or alterations are made to the system. Because these documents are vital, the code now requires that they be housed in a separate documentation cabinet labeled “System Record Documents” located at the control unit or other approved location. Keeping these important documents in a dedicated cabinet also removes combustible material from the fire alarm control unit cabinet.

Fundamentals Chapter Reformatted
Chapter 10, Fundamentals, was reorganized in a logical order to make requirements easy to find. In the case of circuit monitoring requirements, this meant moving the text to Chapter 12, Circuits and Pathways.

Testing Tables Updated
Another chapter with notable changes is Chapter 14, Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance. The tables in this chapter were revised to make them more user-friendly. The visual inspection table was updated to include inspection frequencies and inspection methods for components. The inclusion of inspection methods provides technicians with a checklist of things that may affect the performance of each component. In addition, references to other code sections were added to lead the reader to more detailed information about certain requirements. The test methods and test frequency tables were combined into one easy-to-use table. This change reduces the chance of error by allowing a user to see what, when, and how, all on one row of the table.

New Terms Added
Definitions are provided in NFPA codes to describe the special meaning of terms that are used in the document that differ from those found in a dictionary. There were several changes and additions to the definitions chapter of the code. Two notable additions relate to the terms accessible and false alarm.

The term accessible is used throughout the code, but it has never been defined. This omission can be especially troublesome, because what the technician thinks the term means and what the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) thinks it means may not match. Therefore, accessible (as applied to equipment), accessible (as applied to wiring methods), and accessible, readily (readily accessible) were extracted from NFPA 70, National Electrical Code®. Additionally, the term accessible spaces were added. The new code defines this term as “Spaces or concealed areas of construction that can be entered via open-able panels, doors, hatches, or other readily movable elements (e.g., ceiling tiles)”. This provides guidance where the term is applied to detection coverage in Chapter 17. Adding these definitions to NFPA 72 clarifies the intent of the terms where they are used within the chapters of the document.

False alarms are much more common than reported fires. This may lead to complacency, alarm fatigue, misappropriation of resources (already strained by budgetary cutbacks), or possibly disabling of fire alarm systems or devices. It is well understood that a false alarm is an unwanted alarm, but the term is used to describe many different events. The practice of combining all unwanted alarm events under a single heading (false alarm) becomes problematic when attempting to analyze data related to those unwanted occurrences. In an effort to support the collection of data that will reduce unwanted alarms, a major change in terminology has been introduced that will affect how “false” alarms are reported. An unwanted alarm is “any alarm that occurs that is not the result of a potentially hazardous condition.” To further enhance this term, four sub-classifications have been introduced:

  • Malicious alarm “…caused by a person acting with malice.”
  • Nuisance alarm “…activation of a signaling system… in response to a stimulus… that is not the result of a potentially hazardous condition.”
  • Unintentional alarm “…caused by a person acting without malice.”
  • Unknown alarm “…where the cause has not been identified.”

These four subcategories provide the causes of the false alarms within the term. These subcategories are therefore fairly intuitive and are expected to be used in reporting unwanted alarms. When data is collected using this new terminology, it will relate to specific events. With an analysis of event-related data, decisions that result in a reduction of unwanted alarms can be made.

New Methods for Supervising Stations Introduced
Important changes were made to the supervising stations chapter. As stated previously, un-wanted alarms are of great concern to the fire industry. In an effort to assist first responders with managing un-wanted alarms, changes to Chapter 26, Supervising Station Alarm Systems, were made to address alarm signal disposition. This allows for alarm signal verification by the supervising station where required by the fire department. New provisions in Chapter 26 allow performance-based technologies to be employed. Current technologies that can be configured to meet those requirements include most internet protocol (IP) transmitters. The inclusion of IP-based technologies allows for greater flexibility when providing customers with off-site monitoring. Additionally, by defining the operating parameters of conformance rather than specific details of a technology, the code now allows for future developments in signal transmission.

Conclusion
The 2013 edition of NFPA 72 continues to build upon the changes made to the 2010 edition, resulting in a more logical, user-friendly document. The newly created chapter of documentation requirements and the reorganized fundamentals chapter provide users with a more functional document. The additions of new or clarified terminology, updated testing tables, and new methods for supervising stations incorporate the most current safety provisions in fire detection, signaling, and emergency communications systems. NFPA 72 is continually changing, which is reflective of industry and technological advances. Each new edition profoundly impacts our business, and keeping abreast of the changes not only assures code compliance and the highest level of safety but also results in satisfied customers.

Todd Warner is a product manager for the fire alarm product line in the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, office of Brooks Equipment Company. He is NICET Level IV certified in fire alarms and is a member of the NFPA 72 Technical Committee on Fundamentals of Fire Alarm Systems. Copyright ©2012, all rights reserved.

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