Bringing a Product to the Global Fire Alarm Market
By Isaac Papier, P.E. | Fire Protection Engineering
In an ideal world, the concept of a global product would be
commonplace. Economies of scale would be optimized for design and
manufacturing, and a universal training program would be provided for
designers, installers and service personnel, and travelers might be able
to expect a comparable level of fire safety worldwide. Unfortunately,
reality is far more complex.
there are many codes and standards used throughout the world, generally
these can all be grouped into one of three categories; building codes,
installation standards, and product standards. While it is quite common
for these to be separate documents, it is not unusual for these codes
and standards in some jurisdictions to straddle these categories.
codes specify how the structures should be built, with the scope of
requirements ranging from foundations, load bearing members, interior
and exterior features, means of egress, ventilation and fire protection
features, such as fire resistance, suppression and fire detection and
alarm systems. The building code is typically a series of publications,
where each publication deals with specific subject matter, such as the
building structure, plumbing, mechanical features and fire protection.
In the U.S., building codes include the International Building Code,1 NFPA 5000,2NFPA 13 and NFPA 101.4
codes are not published as an instrument of law, and therefore have no
statutory power in their own. However, they are deliberately crafted
with language suitable for mandatory application to facilitate adoption
into law by state regional and municipal authorities.
In Canada, it's the National Building Code of Canada and the National Fire Codes of Canada
published by the National Research Council of Canada. As in the U.S.,
these codes have no legal status until they are adopted by individual
jurisdictions that regulate construction. As a matter of practice, the Canadian Building Code
is the model building code that forms the basis for all the provincial
building codes. Some jurisdictions create their own code based on the National Building Code; other jurisdictions have adopted the National Building Code
with supplementary laws or regulations to the National Building Code.
The concept of adopting supplementary laws and regulations throughout
the world is a major factor in the complexity of the real world and
often a barrier to a manufacturer's ability to produce a global product.
For the FPE, it very likely means specialization in a specific region.
Europe, it's the Eurocode, published by the European Committee for
Standardization. Application of the Eurocodes in various Member states
is voluntary and is envisioned to remain so in the future. "Nationally
Determined Parameters” (NDP) allows the member states to make
modifications that are based on geographical, geological or climate
conditions as well as level of protection they wish to achieve or even
traditions linked to lifestyle. This arrangement fosters national
deviations that essentially prevent a truly pan-European fire alarm
In China, the building code known as Code of Design on Building Fire Protection and Prevention5
is part of the building national standards developed by state agencies
with input from industry, designers and municipal agencies. These
regulations are administered by the ministry of public security through
local and provincial level fire services. Individual cities have the
authority to develop and enforce local building standards. While the
Ministry of Public Security is a national entity with great powers, the
latitude given to the cities to develop and enforce local standards does
make for differences, but not to the extent seen in Europe.
the goals of these codes are the protection of life and property, many
were developed independently and therefore approach the same subjects in
a somewhat different manner. This results in a difference in equipment
design, installation and operation.
one would assume that the U.S. and Europe, as major developed economies
with unified building codes, may be further along with a uniform set of
codes, reality is considerably less favorable. For the U.S., a number
of factors complicate things. First is the existence of two building
(fire)codes. Unfortunately, most jurisdictions do not utilize the
current edition of the code, and many jurisdictions are more than one
edition behind. A further complication is a state by state advocacy to
move the code adoption cycle from the current three-year period to
six-year. While as of this writing this effort has been stopped in
virtually every state where it has been proposed, this effort remains
ongoing, and the situation may change.
Europe, while the Eurocode is part of a united European initiative, in
practice significant differences exist between many of the E.U. member
states. One example is the unique requirement in France for a fire alarm
interface for the fire services. This does drive different product
requirements in specific E.U. countries.
building code typically refers to installation standards that specify
technology and devices and how to install, maintain, and test the
system. For fire alarm systems in the U.S., this is NFPA 72.6 In Canada, this is CAN/ULC-S524,7
and in Europe this is EN 54-14 Fire detection and alarm systems Part
14: Guidelines for planning, design, installation, commissioning, use
and maintenance, published by European Committee for Standardization,
CEN. They are adopted by various jurisdictions through reference in the
Typically, the reference is to a specific edition, which
may or may not be the latest edition. A further complication occurs
where a local jurisdiction adopts a particular building code and
concurrently may reference a different edition of an installation
standard than the one referenced in the building code.
model code specification identifies a process for determination of
devices suitable for a specific application. This frequently involves a
conformity assessment process performed by third party certification
agencies. This is where product standards come in.
the U.S., these standards are generally published by Underwriters
Laboratories and FM Global. Product certification to these standards is a
declaration that these devices can be installed in an NFPA 72 compliant
fire alarm system. In Canada, fire alarm product standards are
published by Underwriters Laboratories of Canada. Product certification
to these standards is a declaration that these devices can be installed
in a CAN/ULC-S524 compliant fire alarm system. In Europe, these are EN
(European Norm) standards published by the European Committee for
Standardization (CEN). Product certification to these standards is a
declaration that these devices can be installed in a CPR compliant fire
alarm system. Because of E.U. regulations, compliance with the CPR is
mandatory, although the level of compliance varies among the member
While U.S. and Canadian
standards are similar, a number of differences require products tested
for use in one country be retested for the other. Over the past 10 years
or so, the National Electrical Manufacturers (NEMA) has been leading an
effort to harmonize U.S. and Canadian fire alarm product standards.
This has been a long and difficult process that has produced a number of
"Harmonized” UL/ULC standards; unfortunately, they still include many
national deviations that still make the products somewhat different.
EN standards are different than U.S. and Canadian standards and are
specifically written around the Construction Products Directive. While
there have been claims that EN tested and certified products would be
suitable for use in a NFPA 72 compliant system, this is really not true
because of differences in specific requirements. Examples include
different fire tests for smoke detectors, operating ambient temperatures
for fire alarm equipment, time to report a fault and alarm condition,
variable voltage operation, minimum standby power operating time, and
tests that are optional in EN standards while mandatory in UL standards.
Most importantly, the E.U. EN certifications can be viewed as a limited
time licensing, in that there is no factory surveillance program as
there is with the U.S. certification agencies.
major challenge for manufacturers who seek to produce a global fire
alarm product is the conformity assessment process and the agencies that
provide this service. In much of the world, these non-governmental
organizations operate in the private sector and often compete against
In the U.S., the
Conformity Assessment System (CAS) providers are accredited as
Nationally Recognized Test Laboratories (NRTLs) by the U.S. Occupational
Safety and Health Administration. The accreditation is based on
specific technical areas. Each NRTL must demonstrate its competency,
both technically and facility-wise, to test and certify fire alarm
equipment. Unfortunately, these NRTLs view each other as competitors and
have therefore been unwilling to establish a system of data exchange
that would help expedite and reduce product certification time and
In Canada, the conformity
assessment provider accreditation is provided by the Standards Council
of Canada. Here, too, the accreditation process is based on specific
technical areas, and manufacturers face a similar problem of the
conformity accreditation agencies' willingness to accept data from other
conformity assessment bodies are nominated by their member nation
governments and designated as notified bodies by the European
Commission. A notified body is designated based on specific
requirements, such as knowledge, experience, independence and resources
to conduct the conformity assessment. Each member country has designated
a notified body, and in some countries, this is the only accepted
conformity assessment provider. Other nations may accept multiple
conformity assessment business is very competitive, and three agencies
have emerged as dominant players that are accepted on regional bases.
Although all the agencies utilize the same EN standards, there is
considerable variation in interpretation, and therefore many notified
bodies are not accepted outside their home country. As in the U.S.,
notified bodies shun data acceptance for the same reasons as their U.S.
counterparts. Sharing of data between U.S. conformity assessment service
providers and their European counterparts is very rare.
ISO – A POSSIBLE SOLUTION
International Standards Organization (ISO) is a network of the national
standards institutes of 148 countries. It operates on the basis of one
membership per country, with a central secretariat in Geneva,
Switzerland, that coordinates the system.
primary goal of ISO is the development of international standards that
serve as the basis for free and open international trade of goods and
services. The standards developed by ISO cover a broad spectrum of
services and devices, ranging from quality control systems, mechanical
devices, and fire alarm equipment.
the primary goal of all existing national standards is to enhance fire
safety for building occupants and the built environment, it would seem
that a set of international standards could be developed through the ISO
process by combining best practices from each of the existing
standards. While this is a noble concept, development and implementation
of an international set of standards is a challenge. Politics and
business interests, while not openly discussed in technical committee
meetings, are key factors. These factors make committee negotiations
difficult and often frustrating.
Canada and the U.S. are actively working toward harmonizing their
standards, they face a formidable challenge when it comes to
harmonization with ISO because the base documents utilized for
development of the ISO fire alarm equipment standards are the European
EN standards. Having these standards be identical is essential for the
Europeans because they have a mandate to use the ISO standards when they
are published, and the Construction Products Regulation is rooted in
E.U. agreements. For the U.S. and Canada, this requirement for being
identical poses conflict with their respective building and model codes.
Unfortunately, negotiations at the technical committee levels are
difficult, and very little progress at compromise has been achieved.
ultimate goal of harmonized international fire alarm standards, while
many years away, remains a very desirable deliverable. Numerous,
dedicated, hard working individuals labor diligently at the task of
developing, refining and updating the standards to achieve these global
best practice standards. While progress is difficult and time consuming,
eventually that goal will be achieved, because it is the right thing to
do so that the best products and systems become the global norm.
the development of harmonized global standards for fire alarm systems,
the remaining major hurdle for global equipment will be the conformity
assessment service providers. Because of limited resources, a
manufacturer must choose which markets to enter. This system is a major
cost and time barrier that typically reduces the accessible market and
significantly increases costs – which ultimately must be borne by the
Isaac Papier is with Honeywell Life Safety.
International Building Code, International Code Council, Washington, DC, 2012.
NFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2012.
NFPA 1, Fire Code, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2012.
NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2012.
GB50016, Code of Design on Building Fire Protection and Prevention, Ministry of Public Security, Beijing, 2006.
NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2013.
CAN/ULC-S524, Installation of Fire Alarm Systems, Underwriters Laboratories of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, 2006.